Movie Review: Leaving Neverland (HBO Documentary) (English)

Is it still okay to listen to Michael Jackson? Or do we separate the art from the artist? Dan Reed's two-part four-hour long documentary Leaving Neverland leaves us with no easy answers. Nor is it an easy watch. Essentially harrowing accounts of two men, Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck (visibly distraught), 41, who claim they were sexually abused as young boys by Michael Jackson in the early 90's, it offers a striking new lens that makes it impossible to look at the pop icon in same light. The film doesn't so much present concrete evidence as go into graphic details of sexual acts performed by Jackson, psychologically manipulating and seducing them into convincing that the sexual encounters were an act of love while painting himself as a victim of fame, luring the parents with promises of a shiny future for their children (in turn making them complicit), leveraging their trust and exploiting their adulation for him to reveal a pattern of abuse that's downright disturbing.

"It just didn't seem that strange... Love is so powerful... I didn't believe or understand that the sexual stuff that happened between Michael and I was abuse. I didn't feel like I was hurt by it," says Robson, at one point, as he struggles to rationalise years and years of horrifying trauma. That Jackson was a friend, mentor, idol and lover, and also a paedophile, is a painful truth to confront and reconcile, as much as it's for Robson and Safechuck as it's for us, and incredibly tough to disentangle, when the easier way out is to blind yourself to the obvious and lead a lie of a life. Leaving Neverland is hardly a piece of great cinema — the overuse of drone shots is off-putting, the melancholic score screams for attention, and some of the material could have been edited out for what's a taut, more riveting version. But there is a reason why these kind of stories need to be told (like The Tale that came before it) — to lend the survivors a platform to come out, and most importantly, to balance the narrative that often tips in favour of the abusive predators.