Only a few weeks after shocking audiences at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Leaving Neverland, a two-part documentary in which two men allege that Michael Jackson abused them when they were young boys, premiered on HBO on Sunday night. In the documentary, Wade Robson and James Safechuck detail their experiences with Jackson three decades ago, when they were 7 and 10 years old, respectively, alleging that he repeatedly sexually abused each of them around his Neverland ranch in California.
After the film’s Sundance premiere—which sparked a protest and some walkouts—Jackson’s estate issued a statement calling it “tabloid character assassination” and questioning the validity of Robson and Safechuck’s claims. “Leaving Neverland isn’t a documentary, it is the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death. The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact,” the statement read. “These claims were the basis of lawsuits filed by these two admitted liars which were ultimately dismissed by a judge. The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations, which means the entire film hinges solely on the word of two perjurers.”
Upon HBO’s announcement in February that it would be releasing the film within a few weeks, Jackson’s estate filed a lawsuit against the premium cable service. The filing claims that airing the documentary will “constitute a breach of a non-disparagement clause,” since, when obtaining the rights to air Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour in 1992, HBO reportedly signed a provision stating that it would “not make any disparaging remarks concerning [Jackson] or any of his representatives, agents, or business practices or do any act that may harm or disparage or cause to lower in esteem the reputation or public image of [Jackson].”
Despite the best efforts of the estate to prevent the documentary from further release, HBO aired the first half of the four-hour film on Sunday (the second part will air Monday, and is already available to stream), prompting mixed reactions from viewers. While many, like Amber Tamblyn and Rosie O’Donnell, expressed shock at Robson and Safechuck’s allegations, others, like Jackson’s nephew Taj, defended the late pop star.