By Ben Thompson
Dan Reed’s documentary Leaving Neverland promised to shed light on Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of young boys. The reaction to the film has been polarised, with a significant number of viewers questioning the authenticity of the accusers interviewed, while a remarkable amount seemed to have been convinced of his guilt.
Jackson had been dogged by allegations of child sex abuse in his life, and they continue to haunt his legacy in death. Beginning back in 1993, when the father of thirteen-year-old Jordan Chandler alleged that Jackson molested his son. This was resolved with an out of court cash settlement somewhere between 15 and 50 million dollars, according to TIME, February 1994.
Ten years later, Jackson was facing accusations all over again from another 13-year-old boy, Gavin Arvizo. This time, it went to court where Jackson was acquitted of 13 charges on June 14th 2005. (Charges included seven counts of child molestation, two counts of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of committing a felony, conspiracy for child abduction, kidnapping and extortion). Had Jackson been found guilty, he would have faced 20 years in prison.
Fans were jubilant, as cheering gathered outside of the courthouse. One women famously released doves after each ‘Not Guilty’ verdict. Jackson’s celebrity friends had all testified on his behalf, confirming they all had his back.
But since he died in 2009, some of his former defenders have begun to turn.
The two men in the film, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, had known Jackson since they were young boys. Both traveled the world with him at points in his career and spent countless hours at his Neverland Ranch. To them, Jackson was a mentor of sorts, a hero, but most importantly, a God.
He was a God of sorts to millions around the world, which is why it was so earth-shattering when Robson and Safechuck finally spoke out in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
In this documentary (aired this week over two nights on Channel 4), the men detail the harrowing abuse they allegedly suffered at the hands of Jackson. It ranges from grooming and fondling to penetrative rape. They claim that Jackson manipulated them into keeping it a secret, asserting that what they were doing was a display of love. The boys claim they were kept silent by the fear, reinforced by Jackson repeatedly, that they too would be punished if the abuse was revealed.
Although viewer opinion was divided over whether or not Jackson is guilty, this documentary seems to be the beginning of Jackson’s downfall. Admittedly, Jackson had suffered a downfall from the heights of fame in his later years of life – but after his death, people loved him all over again.
There were albums full of unreleased material, virtual reality tours, an upcoming Broadway musical and two productions from Cirque du Soleil. So great was his career revival that Forbes named him the number one ‘highest-paid dead celebrity’, with earnings of $825 million in 2016 alone.
In the wake of Leaving Neverland, it’s all seems to be falling apart for the Jackson Estate.
The Jukebox Broadway musical set to debut in 2020 has had it’s pre-Broadway Chicago premiere cancelled.
The famous episode of The Simpsons guest-starring Jackson (‘Stark Raving Dad’, Season 3, 1991) has been pulled from streaming services and TV channels that broadcast the show. Executive Producer James Brooks told The Wall Street Journal: “This was a treasured episode. There are a lot of great memories we have wrapped up in that one, and this certainly doesn’t allow them to remain.”
Radio stations in Canada and New Zealand have also reportedly stopped playing Jackson’s music.
This sort of action wasn’t taken when Robson and Safechuck first came forward with their allegations, but rather after the documentary aired. It almost seems like the point of no return for Jackson’s legacy.
In a 2007 interview, Jackson’s confidant and biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, said: “I would like historically for him to be remembered for more than just child molestation… I’m not sure that’s going to be the case.”
It’s unclear whether Jackson’s lasting legacy will be that of a child rapist and abuser or a harmless, child-like eccentric. Will he go down with a reputation like that of Gary Glitter? Or will he be vindicated like he was in 2005? Only time will tell.