Leaving Neverland, a Documentary Based on Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Michael Jackson, to Premiere at Sundance 2019 [Updated]

Michael Jackson prepares to enter the Santa Barbara County Superior Court to hear the verdict read in his child molestation case June 13, 2005 in Santa Maria, California. After seven days of deliberation the jury has reached a not guilty verdict on all 10 counts in the trial against Michael Jackson. Jackson was charged in a 10-count indictment with molesting a boy, plying him with liquor and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He pleaded innocent.
Photo: Kevork Djansezian-Pool (Getty Images)

The term “problematic faves” has effectively inserted itself in pop culture. But the work of reconciling with the possibility that people you once idolized are not only imperfect, but nefarious, is very real.

While the recent release of Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly may be the most recent example of that internal war for some people, in reality, the case of Michael Jackson may be the most polarizing.


Leaving Neverland, a documentary chronicling serious accusations of the late pop legend allegedly sexually molesting two young boys is set to premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, according to Rolling Stone. The film’s runtime is 236 minutes — nearly four hours of footage.


Per the film’s synopsis, via Sundance’s site:

At the height of his stardom Michael Jackson began long-running relationships with two boys, aged 7 and 10, and their families. Now in their 30s, they tell the story of how they were sexually abused by Jackson, and how they came to terms with it years later.


Whew, shit. Of course, allegations against Jackson aren’t new, but it is important to note that a documentary spotlighting accusations during this particular time period—the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp—is especially significant.

Jackson’s estate has commented on the documentary world premiere announcement, citing the names of two particular men, despite their names not being mentioned on Sundance’s website.


“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” said the King of Pop’s estate, via E! Online. “Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception’, filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.”

Robson, a choreographer, made “child sexual abuse operation” claims against Jackson’s companies MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures in 2016. A judge later dismissed the case in December 2017. According to New York Daily News, Safechuck filed an amended complaint with similar accusations.


Robson also claimed Jackson abused him from the age of 7 until he was 14, filing a child molestation case against Jackson’s estate in 2013. It was dismissed in 2015.

Robson and Safechuck have not publicly commented on the documentary at this time. The estate went on to discredit the very existence of the film.


“This so called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations,” the estate added. “It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”

Damn. This is a lot. It’s safe to say there will be extremely difficult conversations around this documentary as well, especially once it expands beyond the festival circuit. I suspect it’ll land a distributor very soon, if it isn’t in talks already.


By the way, Sundance is also premiering a documentary on R. Kelly-apologists’ favorite swerve citing Harvey Weinstein, chronicling his sexual assault allegations in a film entitled Untouchable, in case you were sooooo concerned about that.

Leaving Neverland is set to have its world premiere on Jan. 25 with a follow-up screening on Jan. 26. For more information, head to Sundance.org.


Update: 1/11/2019, 8:30 a.m. ET:

As suspected, Leaving Neverland has already found its distributor, pre-premiere. HBO has picked up the documentary, per the network’s press release.


“If there’s anything we’ve learned during this time in our history, it’s that sexual abuse is complicated, and survivors’ voices need to be listened to,” noted the film’s director, Dan Reed. “It took great courage for these two men to tell their stories and I have no question about their validity. I believe anyone who watches this film will see and feel the emotional toll on the men and their families and will appreciate the strength it takes to confront long-held secrets.”


The premiere cable network co-produced the film with Channel 4 and both networks will air Leaving Neverland in spring 2019.

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Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.