When Michael Jackson died in 2009, the world set his scandals aside and mourned his passing. There was a sense of sympathy for Jackson's drug addiction and appreciation for his talent. His legacy appeared to be stronger than ever and people actually seemed to be focusing on his music once more. Now, nearing the 10th anniversary of his death, everything is changing again... and not for the better.
A new film called "Leaving Neverland" has premiered on HBO. The two-part movie recalls the allegations of Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Robson and Safechuck defended Jackson from sexual abuse allegations many times over the years. However, the two men are now accusing Jackson of sexual molestation. The film contains graphic descriptions of the abuse they claim to have been subjected to.
In order to understand these new accusations, it's important to look back at where it began. In 1993, Jackson became the target of child molestation allegations for the first time. The allegations came from a 13-year-old boy named Jordan Chandler. His father, Evan Chandler, filed a lawsuit against Jackson. The father worked as a dentist and was an aspiring screenwriter.
The Chandlers were in a custody battle and Jackson preferred to spend time with Jordan and his mother, June. After Jackson refused to fund Evan's home renovation and $20,000,000 film project, he hired Barry Rothman, an entertainment lawyer. In 1994, it was reported to GQ Magazine that Evan injected Jordan with sodium amytal, a barbiturate that enables false memories. After extracting a tooth from Jordan, Evan reportedly got his son to claim molestation at the hands of Jackson.
Jackson settled the civil case for a reported $20,000,000 in 1994. While many interpret that as a suggestion of guilt, it's important to note that Evan declined to move forward with the criminal case following the settlement. If your child was molested, would you ask for money? Would you settle for money? Would money somehow make what happened to your child okay? Jordan would later file charges against his father for physical abuse and legally emancipated himself.
Ten years later, Jackson was accused of similar crimes. 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo alleged Jackson had molested him and gave him alcohol. Arvizo was seen in the controversial Martin Bashir documentary, "Living With Michael Jackson." According to the allegations, the abuse didn't start until after the Bashir documentary aired. When Gavin testified, he claimed Jackson told him, "If men don't masturbate, they can get to a level where they might rape a girl." However, records show that Gavin initially claimed that was said by his grandmother.
Gavin's mother Janet Arvizo accused Jackson of holding them hostage at Neverland and didn't allow them to know the time. Jackson's defense team proved this wrong by showing video of the property in court. It is clear from the footage that there are clocks all over the ranch. Jackson's lawyer also provided receipts from Janet's various shopping trips during the time she claimed to be held hostage. Celebrities like Chris Tucker and Jay Leno also testified that they had bad experiences with this family. Tucker felt they were taking advantage of his wealth and generosity. Ultimately, Jackson was found not guilty on all charges.
The reaction to "Leaving Neverland" has cast a dark cloud over Jackson's legacy. After the film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, many took to Twitter to share their disgust. A lot of people were saying this film was "credible" and provided "evidence" that Jackson was guilty of the allegations. Even after the film premiered on HBO, a lot of people remain convinced by the two men's stories. Oprah Winfrey even hosted an interview with Robson, Safechuck, and the director Dan Reed following the television premiere.
The problem with this reaction is that the film doesn't actually include any evidence. If anything, the facts point to Robson and Safechuck being proven liars. When Robson filed his declaration in 2013, he claimed Jackson began molesting him on the second night he spent with him. This claim was repeated in several amended complaints from 2014 to 2016. However, during his deposition in late 2016, excerpts from a book draft Robson wrote were read. In the draft, Robson wrote the molestation didn't occur the first two nights. Instead, it began later on in the week. This is the version we hear in the film.
Robson also claimed that he could no longer work on entertainment-related activities. He claimed these activities reminded him too much of Jackson and sexual abuse. However, there are several social media posts during this period where Robson is working in the dance studio and creating short films. Robson declared himself "healed" from the bad association he had with entertainment activities in September 2017, when his case was heading toward dismissal.
Robson also claimed that Jackson tried to prevent him from seeing women. However, Jackson's niece, Brandi Jackson, revealed she dated Robson for nearly 10 years. In fact, she also claimed it was Michael who set the two up because he heard Robson had a crush on her. This relationship was not mentioned in the documentary. According to leaked emails sent from Robson to his mother, he asked her if a story by a security guard was true. She responded telling him it wasn't true. Yet, he included the same story, almost verbatim, in his amended complaint filed in September 2016.
Safechuck provided dates of the alleged abuse in his lawsuit against the estate. However, certain dates were proven to be inaccurate. Safechuck claimed Jackson molested him during a trip to New York where he was performing at the Grammys in February 1989. The problem is, the Grammys were not in New York in 1989, they were in Los Angeles, and Jackson didn't perform that year. Jackson did perform at the Grammys in New York a year earlier in March 1988. However, Safechuck claimed he was first molested by Jackson during the Paris stop of his world tour in June 1988.
In my opinion, the two men don't appear to be believable in the film at all. Robson doesn't claim repressed memory. He says he always remembered everything Jackson did to him, he just didn't realize it was abuse. Robson testified in Jackson's defense at his trial in 2005. I find it hard to believe that a grown man would testify at a trial which described the same acts as abuse and still not recognize the behavior as such.
Safechuck appeared to be smiling and smirking during his graphic descriptions of the alleged sex acts between him and Jackson. Safechuck's mother also laughed as she described a moment when she put her ear up to the bedroom door trying to hear what Jackson and her son were doing. Why would a mother laugh about such a thing if she now knows her son was being molested?
The film also claims Jackson grooms the parents as well, by bonding with them and spending time in their home. I think that just sounds like a man who was famous since childhood and didn't know what a normal life was like. It makes sense to me why Jackson would want to stay in some family house in suburbia and take out the trash. That was foreign to him and something he probably yearned for.
Another claim thrown around regarding Jackson, is that he often rejects his young friends once they hit puberty. However, there are several young friends Jackson kept well into their adulthood. Macaulay Culkin, Omer Bhatti, Frank Cascio and his brother Eddie are just some examples of children Jackson maintained friendships with as they grew up.
If the film proves anything, it's how easy people are emotionally manipulated in 2019. But why is that the case? I think it has to do with the fact that a lot of people want to do good, but don't have the drive to do the work. So it's easy for them to become keyboard warriors on social media. Punishing and canceling celebrities makes people feel like they're standing up for the disenfranchised. So if a famous person is accused of sexual assault, keyboard warriors come out in full force.
People are worried that if we don't blindly believe accusers, it will make it difficult for real victims to come forward. If one is neutral towards an allegation of this nature, however, they're not taking a side. There's no reason that stance should dissuade a victim from coming forward. The idea of neutrality seems to be lost on many people. The "believe all victims" mentality goes against the "innocent until proven guilty" principle we have in our justice system.
Healthy skepticism is essential for cases like these. Look at what happened when it was reported that Jussie Smollett was the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime. A lot of people, including celebrities, wished him well on social media. Then, the Chicago Police Department provided evidence supporting their claim that he fabricated the whole thing. This was harmful toward real victims of hate crimes, including members of the LGBTQ community. Blindly believing all accusers will only cause people to take rape allegations less seriously. The best thing we can do for victims is not to jump to conclusions when there are no facts.
If there were no facts to sway me in either direction, I would have a neutral stance on this case. However, I personally believe in Jackson's innocence. That stance is not due to my being a fan of his music. It's due to the fact that Robson and Safechuck's stories include lies and inconsistencies. I believe money is their motive. They claim they're not out for money and aren't being compensated for the film. However, their lawsuit against Jackson's estate is currently pending an appeal after being thrown out of court.
The fact that anyone can accuse someone and be believed at face value is very dangerous. There are two sides in every sexual assault allegation. Either a person was raped or a person is losing their career and reputation. I find the immediate assumption of Jackson's guilt to be extremely unfair. There are now reports of his statues being removed from public displays and several radio stations banning his music. I don't think any of that is deserved.
A lot of people say things like, "Imagine the 45-year-old average Joe down the street. Would you let your child sleep with him in the same bed?" That argument is so tiring because Michael Jackson wasn't like the average Joe. He didn't look like the average Joe, live like the average Joe, or have the same life story as the average Joe. How could we expect him to abide by common social norms when he was famous and isolated since childhood?
Jackson also had the kind of power that allowed him to surround himself with people who would do things his way. If anyone tried to question his sleeping in bed with children, they could very easily be replaced. This was one of Jackson's flaws, which I believe ultimately led to his downfall. But that doesn't mean Jackson had a sexual interest in children. It just proved he had a stubborn side that very few could challenge.
"Leaving Neverland" is nothing more than a four-hour propaganda piece meant to take advantage of the #MeToo era and the moral outrage that comes with it. It doesn't present any of Robson or Safechuck's contradictory statements or proven lies for this very reason. Its goal is to provide public sympathy for two men out for money from Michael Jackson's estate.
Don't get me wrong, Jackson himself was far from perfect. If he was guilty of anything, it was being too kind and trusting. This is why so many people took advantage of him during his lifetime and still do in death. I believe it was a mistake for Jackson to settle with his first accuser in 1993. I believe that led to his trial and these new allegations. It opened the door for so many to make similar claims against him for money.
But that doesn't mean Jackson should be "canceled." His musical legacy and humanitarian work have left a significant mark on our culture. Allegations from two proven liars shouldn't ruin what he has meant to music history. It's time for people to wake up, do their research, and learn the truth about this man. Let's celebrate the King of Pop. It's time to let this man finally rest in peace.