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Michael Jackson Film Detailing Alleged Child Sex Abuse Gets Standing Ovation At Sundance, But Family Fumes
"Leaving Neverland" explores allegations made by Wade Robson and James Safechuck that the pop icon sexually abused them over a period of years when they were kids.
A controversial new documentary examining abuse allegations against Michael Jackson received a warm reception when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah over the weekend.
“Leaving Neverland,” a four-hour documentary directed by British filmmaker Dan Reed, details the accusations of two men who say Jackson sexually abused them as children. The film’s Friday screening received a standing ovation as the two men whose accusations it was based on — Wade Robson and James Safechuck — took the stage at the film’s close, Deadline reports.
Robson and Safechuck, as well as their families, were interviewed for the film, which bills itself as a “portrait of sustained exploitation and deception.” Robson, who says that Jackson abused him from the age of 7 until he was 14 years old, said during the film that he and Jackson used to shower together, and that the abuse included masturbation and oral sex, according to the New York Post.
Safechuck reportedly said that Jackson introduced him to masturbation and had him practice putting his clothes on quickly and quietly to the decrease the likelihood of someone else witnessing the abuse, the New York Post reports. Jackson even once staged a wedding ceremony between them that included vows and an exchange of rings, Safechuck said.
Jackson’s estate has publicly condemned the film, calling it “another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.”
During a Q&A session following the film, Robson addressed Jackson fans who may not believe his story, Deadline reports.
“I don’t feel that like there is anything I need to say to them except that I understand that it is really hard for them to believe,” he said. “Even though it happened to me I still couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing, so I understand.”
He added that, “We can only understand and accept something when we are ready.”
Safechuck told audiences that neither he nor Robson were paid to tell their stories for the film, Deadline reports.
Jackson was acquitted on child molestation charges in 2005, and both Robson and Safechuck told investigators then that Jackson had never molested them, according to the Associated Press. Both men went on to file lawsuits against the pop icon in 2013 and 2014 claiming otherwise, but both cases were dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out, the outlet reports.
Jackson’s family said Monday that they were “furious” about the new film and called Robson and Safechuck “perjurers” in a statement obtained by ABC News.
“Michael always turned the other cheek, and we have always turned the other cheek when people have gone after members of our family — that is the Jackson way,” their statement reads. “But we can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on. ... Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made.”
Jackson’s estate also called out media outlets for believing “the word of two admitted liars over the word of hundreds of families and friends around the world who spent time with Michael,” according to ABC News.
Jackson had been associated with child molestation rumors throughout his career, and even after his death in 2009, the subject has continued to be the source of furious debate. Festival security and police officers were stationed at the theater during the screening, while two of Jackson’s fans protested the film by standing outside the theater and holding signs that read, “Seek Truth,” Variety reports. The signs referenced Jackson’s “undeniable innocence” and instructs the public to “learn the truth” by watching a video on YouTube that promises to tell “the real story” regarding Robson and Jackson, according to the outlet.
One protestor, Brenda Jenkyns, told Variety that she’d made the trip from Calgary, Canada to Utah to “stand up for” Jackson.
“It’s important that people look at the facts, because the truth isn’t black and white,” she said.
“Leaving Neverland” is scheduled to air on HBO this spring and on the U.K.'s Channel 4, according to the Associated Press.
[Photo: Getty Images]