Michael Jackson Documentary 'Leaving Neverland' Sparks Protests, Mixed Reactions at Sundance Film Festival

Leaving Neverland, the four-hour documentary about the child sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, leaving the audience stunned and speechless by the time it was over. The film, which will air on HBO this spring, has already been denounced by the Jackson family.

Directed by Dan Reed, the film centers on Jackson's relationships with Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck. Robson, a successful choreographer who worked with Britney Spears and NSYNC, claims he first met Jackson when he was just, 7 years old. He won a dance contest during Jackson's 1987 Bad World Tour and caught the attention of Jackson, who convinced his family to move from Australia to Los Angeles. Safechuck met Jackson as a 10-year-old child actor on the set of a Pepsi commercial in 1987.

According to USA Today, the film includes several shocking allegations from both men, who attended a Q&A after the Sundance screening. The two both claim to have had sexual experiences with Jackson, and said Jackson frequently tested them on ways to avoid getting caught. Safechuck claimed Jackson staged a mock wedding years into their relationship, and even gave Safechuck a diamond-encrusted gold ring.

Robson and Safechuck claim Jackson tried to turn them against their parents and make them hate women. Before Jackson's short-lived marriage to Lisa Marie Presley in 1994, Jackson told Safechuck it did not "mean anything," Safechuck claimed.

The two also said Jackson wanted to them to testify on his behalf in 2005, when Jackson was tried for allegedly molesting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo. Safechuck refused, but Robson agreed to, out of support for a friend.

Robson and Safechuck both sued the Jackson estate after the singer's death in 2009, but the cases were dismissed by judges.

Critics at the premiere screening shared their thoughts on the film, which included a 10-minute intermission.

"It's halftime at the four-hour Michael Jackson doc and I'm already gonna need 400 showers to ever feel clean again," Indiewire's David Ehrlich wrote.

"On a 10-min break halfway through Sundance's 4-hour Michael Jackson child sex abuse documentary. Whatever you thought you knew or were aware of, the content of this is more disturbing than you could imagine. And again, we're only halfway through," The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon wrote.

Park City police were prepared for protests, but officers far outnumbered the protesters. Variety's Matt Donnelly reported that only two protesters showed up.

Following the screening, the Jackson family slammed the film in a statement to PEOPLE, calling it a "tabloid character assassination."

"Tellingly, the director admitted at the Sundance Film Festival that he limited his interviews only to these accusers and their families," the statement reads. "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. By choosing not to include any of these independent voices who might challenge the narrative that he was determined to sell, the director neglected fact checking so he could craft a narrative so blatantly one-sided that viewers never get anything close to a balanced portrait."

Jackson's nephew, Taj Jackson, called the film a "one-sided hit job" and launched a GoFundMe page to fund a counter-documentary.


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