'Leaving Neverland' Director Says He Never Set Out To Make A Doco About Jackson
Dan Reed directed the controversial documentary which follows the story of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who detail allegations of child sex abuse at the hands of music legend Michael Jackson.
Jackson has been dead for almost 10 years, and one of the first questions faced when hearing about Leaving Neverland is: why make a documentary condemning a dead man now?
"It's not about Michael Jackson," Reed said, "it's about two people that are very much alive: Wade Robson and James Safechuck.
They have a story to tell, they want for the story to be told partly because it's too late to bring Jackson to justice."
Speaking to 10 daily, Reed admitted this was not a story he sought out, rather stumbling upon it in a meeting.
While discussing his technique of filmmaking, Reed and an executive discussed events that have been culturally widespread, but perhaps the intimate details were overlooked.
"For instance the controversy surrounding Michael Jackson," Reed said, "We did a little bit of research and I stumbled across a reference to these two guys that were suing Michael Jackson's estate, saying they had been abused. That made me curious so I started digging."
"Their story might help sexual abuse survivors," Reed continued, "and it might help them -- getting their story out after having sat in silence."
The first part of the documentary tracks the relationships between Robson and Safechuck who were seven and 10 years old respectively. This is when they allege the abuse began.
Leaving Neverland also only features comments from Safechuck, Robson and their families and not from any of the Jacksons.
A press release from the Jackson estate claimed the film was a "tabloid character assassination" and "blatantly one-sided".
"In doing so, he intentionally avoided interviewing numerous people over the years who spent significant time with Michael Jackson and have unambiguously stated that he treated children with respect and did nothing hurtful to them," the press release read.
When questioned about the deliberate one-sided nature the film, Reed first responded to the idea of including any statement or response from the Jackson estate.
"We don't make any allegations about the estate, we don't talk about the estate at all," he said, "there's no reason to include them."
"And Michael is dead and can't speak for himself... we include at great length his denials and rebuttals in the film."
Similarly, when asked if he ever thought to include comment from others who were close to Jackson at the time -- especially those like Macaulay Culkin who shared a similar close friendship with Jackson to Safechuck and Robson -- Reed again said that wasn't the point.
"To put it bluntly: does the fact that there are children who claim they weren't abused in any way undermine the credibility of those who say they were abused? No, it doesn't."
Reed added, "It's like saying making a film about a murderer... you can always find people who weren't murdered."
The first part of the documentary features both Robson and Safechuck recounting the alleged sexual contact they had with Jackson, often in graphic detail.
Both men detailed explicit sex acts, with Safechuck claiming Jackson would often "run drills" where the pair would rehearse getting dressed in silence.
"Not getting caught was a big fundamental," he says during the film.
"He would tell me that if anybody found out his life would be over and my life would be over. And that’s something he tells you over and over again."
Reed believed the inclusion of the graphic details was an important part of the story, saying that it was intentional to allow Safechuck and Robson to be as explicit as possible in order to juxtapose the image Jackson portrayed.
"For a very long time Jackson portrayed himself as a man-child with an innocent interest in spending the night with little boys and said nothing sexual ever happened," Reed said.
By focusing so much of the film on Safechuck and Robson's allegations, Reed said, "We needed to establish beyond any doubt whatsoever that what was happening was sexual activity and not cuddling."
Robson and Safechuck filed cases against the Jackson estate in 2013 and 2014, both cases were dismissed with the judge saying both men had filed too late after Jackson's death in 2009.
After Safechuck and Robson came forward they were bombarded with claims that they were attempting to extract money from Jackson's estate.
These were on top of the two other trials where Jackson had been accused of child sexual abuse in 1993 and 2004. The first trial was settled out of court, the second Jackson was found not guilty on all charges.
Both Robson and Safechuck testified at some point during these earlier trials that they had never been abused by Jackson.
It was only when both men entered fatherhood that their experiences with Jackson began to compound on their mental health, with both revealing that it became too hard to bury the past.
Wade Robson and his wife Amanda when he was a defence witness during the 2005 trial against Jackson. Image: Getty Images.
Relatives of Jackson claim that Robson's lawsuit only came about after he didn't receive a role in the Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil production One.
The film touches on the response both men received -- especially on the internet -- when they came forward. It highlights the way victims of sexual abuse are treated, especially when their alleged abuser was a beloved celebrity.
"Their belief of Michael's innocence isn't based on anything other than the fact that he was a really talented singer and dancer," Reed said of Jackson's most fanatical supporters.
"They have no first-hand knowledge, they weren't there in the bedroom obviously... most of them had no direct contact with Jackson."
Leaving Neverland will air across two nights on Network 10. You can watch part one from 8.30pm Friday 8 March, and part two from 8.30pm Saturday 9 March. Leaving Neverland will also be fast-tracked to 10 play and 10 All Access from 10.01am Friday 8 March.
If this story raised issues for you, you can get support. Call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or the Kids Helpline (ages 5 to 25) on 1800 55 1800.
Featured image: Supplied.