Earlier this month, HBO released the two-part docuseries “Leaving Neverland,” produced and directed by Dan Reed. This series follows the stories of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who both befriended pop icon Michael Jackson as children in the early 1990s. The series also features statements from their families but excluded interviews with anyone else, including anyone from the Jackson family or their public relations team.
The series raises allegations against Jackson that he molested both Robson and Safechuck for years. In an episode with Oprah Winfrey named “After Neverland,” Reed was asked why he had not included statements from the Jackson family, who vehemently deny the allegations made by the two men.
“I realized that these men had an extraordinary story to tell, not so much even about Michael Jackson but about what grooming child sexual abuse looks like,” Reed said. Later, he continued, “This is a film that is not about Jackson. It’s about what happened to Wade and James.”
In the days following the release of the series, people took to social media to declare their support for either the alleged victims or for Jackson. One Twitter user wrote, “If it wasn’t Michael Jackson, everyone would believe he was guilty.”
One of the most popular hashtags on the topic is #MJinnocent with many users changing their profile pictures and display names to things relating to the famed singer. Many people called Robson and Safechuck gold diggers, liars and fame-seekers.
While the docuseries provides lots of information, it is perhaps most important to focus on the social results the series produced. While Jackson’s alleged victims have some public support, there are still many who criticize them and don’t believe their stories. These naysayers openly declare their love for Jackson and say he could never do anything bad to a child, though it is widely known that Jackson slept in the same bed with children throughout his adult life.
We live in an age now where victims are encouraged to step forward and discuss their abuse publicly. The #MeToo movement of 2018 was a big part of this, as victims of sexual assault came forward in unprecedented numbers to call out their abusers and, in some cases, seek legal justice for the crimes committed against them. During protests and online public statements, it was common to hear the phrase, “Believe the victims!”
But while the #MeToo movement was beneficial for many women who experienced sexual abuse, it was not as helpful for men who spoke up. Terry Cruz, for instance, was mocked when he claimed he had been molested by another man.
The fact that Jackson is still receiving support while people mock and degrade Safechuck and Robson proves two things: Men who come forward are not believed as easily as women and the same principles that apply to alleged female victims do not equally apply to men.
When Bill Cosby, R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein were accused by women of sexual assault, most people believed the women. It was assumed that the men had abused their power as important social figures — as singers, actors, producers — to lure the women in and take advantage of them.
Yet, in the case with Jackson, many assume the exact opposite, that Jackson would never abuse his power and the men made it all up. The same accusations they denied towards the women were thrown at the men. Why did they wait so long to come forward? Why did they put themselves in that situation? Why didn’t they tell their parents?
Sexual assault is a horrible thing to happen to anyone, but to believe it only happens to women and girls is a misunderstanding that can cause dire consequences. It is not something that just happens to females but something that happens to everyone. As a society, we have a duty to take all allegations seriously.
But Jackson’s supporters do not take the allegations seriously. They deny them outright. They continue to idolize Jackson and put him on a pedestal where he can do no wrong. They sometimes refer to him as a god, or their god, as shown in the series.
This reverence is what blinds them to the stories these alleged victims tell. This sort of idolization followed Jackson all his life, and even now, after death, proceeds to silence the voices of those who speak against him. If there is anything worse than an abuser, it is an enabler.
“Leaving Neverland” presented many allegations. It is up to the viewers to decide whether they believe the alleged victims or not. But above all else, the allegations should be taken seriously and should not result in the belittlement of the men making these claims.