As HBO prepares to air the two-part Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland, focused on sexual abuse allegations against the late pop star, it continues to face opposition from the Jackson estate, which sued HBO last week, and has attacked those behind the documentary for not reaching out to the estate for comment, according to a lawyer for the estate.
Jackson’s team has been waging a battle against Leaving Neverland, which focuses on Wade Robson and James Safechuck’s claims that Jackson repeatedly molested them when they were young, since its Sundance premiere.
Appearing on CBS This Morning in the first of a series of interviews about Leaving Neverland this week, including a sit-down with the Jackson family tomorrow, director Dan Reed explained why his film focuses so strongly on Robson and Safechuck’s claims and doesn’t include a new response from the Jackson estate.
“The allegation’s directed against Michael himself and of course he’s no longer around to defend himself,” Reed said. “So we included the things he said while he was alive in defense of his behavior, during the 1993 and 2003-2005 investigations. He went on television and his lawyers made statements, and we include quite a lot of that stuff.”
Still, Reed says, the film isn’t about Jackson and he doubts there were any other eyewitnesses to the abuse nor does Jackson’s family know about what Robson and Safechuck claim happened.
“It’s a film about Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two little boys to whom this dreadful thing happened long ago. It’s the story of their coming to terms with that over two decades and the story of their families,” Reed said. “As far as including other eyewitnesses to that, there was no one else in the room, I don’t believe, when Wade was being molested by Michael or when James was having sex with Michael.”
“What was important for me was to have eyewitnesses or people who could add something to the story. I don’t know that the Jackson family has any direct knowledge of what happened to Wade and James. I don’t believe they do. If they do, then they should come forward,” Reed said. “We know that the family and the estate[s] and Jackson during his lifetime and his lawyers all deny that any sexual abuse took place and those views are strongly represented in the film. We give those views a lot of time in the film on screen and we have people casting doubt on Wade’s change of heart.”
During the last 20 years of his life, Jackson repeatedly faced allegations of sexual abuse, which he denied. And both Robson and Safechuck denied being molested by Jackson in sworn statements but filed lawsuits in 2013 claiming that they have now faced the truth that they were sexually abused. Both suits were thrown out for technical reasons but are being appealed.
Reed said he also dug into past sexual abuse claims against Jackson.
“[I] read a lot of the witness statements there and spoke to a lot of the investigators and I didn’t find anything that contradicted or cast any doubt whatsoever on Wade and James’s accounts,” he said.
He added, “I certainly didn’t want to stake any reputation on a story that didn’t have a strong factual basis or that wasn’t true. So I did look, you know, throughout the two years of making the film, I looked for anything that could cast doubt or undermine Wade and James’ story. I found nothing at all. I found their stories to be very very consistent. I found their families’ stories to be consistent with what they had told me.”
Those wondering why Robson and Safechuck seemingly changed their stories, Reed says, have to understand the “deep attachment formed between the abuser and the abused with this kind of grooming pedophile activity.”
“Both Wade and James were in love with Michael, even after the sexual activity stopped,” Reed said. “They continued loving him and he was a close friend, particularly to Wade for many, many years.”
CBS This Morning will also air an interview with Robson and Safechuck on Thursday.