Alternating between the pair’s stories, director Dan Reed follows their personal journeys into adulthood, methodically addressing specific incidents from multiple perspectives, including those of family members.
The rift that the cited events caused between the two and their parents — who allowed their sons to spend so much unsupervised time with a grown man, due in part to his child-like qualities — and the guilt associated with that, are at the core of the uncomfortable picture that “Leaving Neverland” paints. These are tales of abuse that, as described, continued for years, with the boys’ status as Jackson’s companions only shifting when new youths entered his life.
Even now, their mothers sound wide-eyed reminiscing about the opulence to which they were exposed. At one point,Robson’s family embarked on a trip to the Grand Canyon, while he stayed behind with Jackson alone as the “sex stuff,” as he puts it, occurred.
“It was a fairy tale, every night,” says Safechuck’s mother, Stephanie, describing Neverland as being “a child’s dream come true.”
Reed employs a device that’s at first off-putting — indeed, almost creepy — by incorporating a lush musical score that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Hallmark Channel movie. As the film progresses, though, it’s clear that he’s trying to approximate the otherworldly qualities of being drawn into Jackson’s orbit, and the perks that flowed from the mega-stardom that surrounded him.
Jackson’s wealth and fame have always complicated this story, as was evident in the outpouring of emotion unleashed by his death in 2009. Those attributes were also used to silence or discredit accusers, underscored by a clip showing attorney Mark Geragos threatening to unleash a “legal torrent” upon those who would besmirch Jackson’s reputation. (Geragos is employed by CNN as a contributor.)
Robson testified in support of Jackson at his 2005 trial, where he was acquitted of child molestation and related charges, and Safechuck at one point denied he was molested by Jackson to investigators.
Their parents acknowledge their initial belief that accusations pertaining to other children were just a money grab. There is also the matter of the gifts Jackson lavished upon them, helping the Safechucks buy a house — something that Safechuck’s mom admits made it look as if they were being bought off.
The evidence doesn’t begin and end with the key subjects here.
There are Jackson’s own perplexing statements, including the 2003 Martin Bashir TV interview in which the then-44-year-old singer insisted there was nothing wrong with sharing his bed with minors, defending the practice as innocent and “a beautiful thing.”
To those who would ask about revisiting this material now, beyond the enduring fascination with Jackson, this latest chapter notably comes after people have been compelled to reconsider their views of other beloved entertainers, among them Bill Cosby, and the high bar faced by alleged victims.
In that respect, “Leaving Neverland” possesses another layer of relevance in methodically tackling the King of Pop, and a musical legacy that has long since been at the very least clouded, and for many, forever tarnished.
“Leaving Neverland” will air March 3-4 at 8 p.m. on HBO.