Michael Jackson’s family is firing back at HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” documentary by participating in a “mini documentary” that takes aim at Jackson’s accusers.
HBO’s documentary told the stories of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, two men who claim that Jackson molested them as children, oftentimes at his famous Neverland estate. To defend Jackson's name, producer Liam McEwan released a rebuttal, a 30-minute “mini documentary” called “Neverland Firsthand: Investigating the Michael Jackson Documentary,” via YouTube on March 30.
The short feature, directed by Eli Pedraza, includes interviews with a number of Jackson’s family members and others who were close to him during his lifetime, including his niece Brandi Jackson, his nephew Taj Jackson, and a former colleague, technical director Brad Sundberg, who worked with Jackson for a number of years.
Jackson was acquitted on child molestation charges in 2005 and maintained his innocence until his death in 2009, but the HBO documentary, which told Robson and Safechuck’s stories in extreme detail, seems to have reignited debate surrounding the allegations. Both Robson and Safechuck alleged that Neverland was the site of repeated sexual abuse, but Sundberg, in a phone interview with McEwan included in the “Neverland Firsthand” film, claimed otherwise.
Sundberg was hired by Jackson to outfit the estate with various forms of technology, and he refuted claims that Jackson abused boys in the “green room” of his recording studio. While Sundberg did confirm that Jackson had a green room, or lounge area — as many artists do, he said — he claimed that it was rare for Jackson to entertain guests there and insisted that he only saw Robson there a handful of times.
“The perception that Michael always had kids there, kids and chimps and, you know, clowns juggling bowling pins, there’s really no validity to that. We were working,” he said, adding later, “Not in a million years did I ever see a child around Michael Jackson that looked like they had been distressed, hurt, abused. I can’t put my hand on a bible and say, ‘Absolutely nothing happened in that room.’ It’s just, there weren’t that many instances. I mean, I remember seeing Wade once or twice at the studio. It was not a regular occurrence at all and there just wasn’t a sense of wrongdoing or, ‘Oh my goodness, what’s going on?’”
McEwan also called on Jackson’s niece, Brandi Jackson, to speak on the allegations against her uncle. Brandi Jackson said that she dated Robson as a teen until he allegedly cheated on her with women he believed could help further his career. She painted his allegations against her uncle as having a financial motive.
“He has always been a bit of an opportunist. … He knows how to position himself into different situations that will benefit him in a financial way,” she said, going on to accuse Robson of making claims against Jackson because his career was floundering and he wanted money.
Brandi Jackson claimed that her relationship with Robson was not included in the documentary because it would “discredit” his story.
“He’s saying that he was in a relationship with my uncle, that they were in love, and that they were having a relationship, if you will,” she said. “He’s saying that my uncle kept him from women, which is not true. We were just talking about how my uncle put us together. It would discount or discredit the things that he’s trying to claim, and I find it fascinating that he thinks he’s able to just erase 10 years of his life.”
She reasserted those claims during an interview with Billboard last week. Robson’s attorney Vince William Finaldi responded to those claims in a brief statement.
“Ms. Jackson was not with Wade and Michael Jackson when the sexual abuse occurred, and as such, she has nothing relevant to say about the topic,” he said.
Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson, who has been a vocal supporter of his late uncle and who is currently crowdfunding financing for another documentary in response, was also featured in the doc, and reasserted his stance that the late King of Pop was unjustly accused.
Robson’s accusations felt like a “betrayal,” Taj Jackson said, later comparing Robson to a “disgruntled employee.”
The film has been viewed more than 430,000 times thus far.
Safechuck and Robson, both of whom testified on Jackson’s behalf at least once as children, filed lawsuits against Jackson following his death alleging abuse, but both lawsuits were dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out.
Following the release of the film, a number of radio stations have vowed to stop playing Jackson’s music, and “Simpsons” producers decided to pull Jackson’s episode from their archives. Both Safechuck and Robson have stood by their claims, and have said that they came forward with their stories to raise awareness of child sex abuse, according to Deadline.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s family has been vocal in their disapproval of the HBO film. His estate filed a lawsuit against the network accusing them of violating a contract from the 1990s by airing the special and thereby, in their view, disparaging Jackson.
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