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“Leaving Neverland” Review: A Chance to Finally Listen

June 25, 2009. It was a day that would go down in history. In fact, most people remember exactly what they were doing when they found out that Michael Jackson had died. Twelve-year-old me was sitting at home, watching T.V., when almost every channel was flooded with the devastating news: the superstar had passed away.

Michael Jackson, commonly known as the “king of pop,” was a musical pioneer whose record-breaking hits like Thriller, Billie Jean and Beat It (just to name a few) paved the way for countless artists that came after him. His style, voice, dance moves, musical arrangements and even his hair forever changed the music industry, making him one of the most beloved icons in music history.

Despite his undeniable success, however, Jackson’s life was often riddled with controversy. Rumors often circulated about his friendships with several young boys including actor Macaulay Culkin and dancer/choreographer Wade Robson.

In 1993, Jackson faced child sexual abuse accusations before reaching a settlement with the accuser, 13-year-old Jordy Chandler, and his family. In 2005, allegations resurfaced and Jackson was charged with molesting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo; however, after an 18-month-long trial, Jackson was found not guilty on all charges.

January 25, 2019. Almost 10 years after Jackson’s death, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused as children by Jackson, told their stories in the new documentary “Leaving Neverland.”

In the two-part film, directed and produced by British filmmaker Dan Reed, Robson and Safechuck, now in their 30s, give detailed accounts of the nature of their long-running relationships with Jackson.

Wade Robson met Jackson in Australia at the age of seven when he won a dance competition that allowed him to perform alongside Jackson at one of his concerts. Robson and Jackson had an instant connection, and Jackson quickly formed a friendship with the Robson family. At age nine, Robson and his family moved to the U.S. with Jackson’s help.

According to Robson, it didn’t take long for their friendship to become inappropriate. Robson recalls spending days, sometimes weeks, at Jackson’s house, often sleeping in the same bed as him where Jackson would proceed to sexually molest him. The abuse lasted seven years.

James Safechuck met Jackson at age 10 while starring in a Pepsi commercial with Jackson. Their friendship quickly blossomed, and Safechuck similarly describes staying at Jackson’s house for weeks at a time. Not long into their friendship, Jackson began sexually molesting Safechuck. This abuse lasted for a period of about four years.

As described in the documentary, it wasn’t until they were well into adulthood that both Robson and Safechuck were able to admit to their loved ones what had happened to them, let alone the world. In fact, an interesting phenomenon that is explored throughout the film is the complex effects of child sexual abuse on the human psyche. The reality is that both men didn’t even fully realize that what had happened to them was abuse, that it was wrong until they were almost in their 30s.

“It is a study of the psychology of child sexual abuse, told through two ordinary families who were groomed for 20 years by a pedophile masquerading as a trusted friend,” said director Dan Reed.

“Leaving Neverland” is an important film that sheds light on the lasting and traumatizing psychological ramifications of child sexual abuse. It gives a platform for two survivors to share their stories, and it gives society a chance to pay attention, to look instead of overlook and to listen and not dismiss.

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Tigist Layne

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