“Secrets will eat you up. It sucks the life out of you. Just deteriorates you from the inside, like a part of you is dead.”
So said James Safechuck, one of two men whose stories director Dan Reed gave a spotlight to in HBO’s “Leaving Neverland.” Safechuck, along with choreographer Wade Robson, both claim that late pop star Michael Jackson sexually abused them during their childhoods, decades after both defended him when he was accused in 1993 of molesting a 13-year-old boy. Robson testified in support of Jackson more than a decade later, in 2005, but following Jackson’s death in 2009, both men came forward with sexual assault allegations against Jackson and filed lawsuits against his estate. Those cases were ultimately dismissed, but Robson and Safechuck recounted the alleged abuse again for the HBO film.
Before his death in 2009, Jackson repeatedly denied sexually abusing children, and he was acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005. His remaining family members and estate continue to defend his name by speaking out against the film, calling it a “pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.” In their latest move to fight the film, they sued the network for allegedly violating a previous non-disparagement contract.
Despite the threat of an impending legal battle, HBO aired “Leaving Neverland” as scheduled earlier this week, in the process giving Safechuck and Robson a platform they’ve never had before and affording the public another chance to consider the long-held claims against Jackson with new eyes.
In a two-part, four-hour documentary packed to the brim with moments both eye-opening and uncomfortable, here are just a few that will undoubtedly stay with viewers long after the credits have rolled.
1. The alleged sexual encounters were an “every day” occurrence
Neverland Ranch is almost as iconic as Jackson himself. The singer’s sizable estate, complete with carnival rides and a petting zoo, seemed like something out of a child’s daydream, but as Safechuck and Robson described it, it sounded much more like a nightmare, one that they wouldn’t realize they were living in until years later.
Safechuck claimed that his alleged sexual encounters with Jackson were frequent and that they occurred in the many rooms of the singer’s estate, explaining that Jackson “had an Indian fort, like with tipis, so we would lay down sleeping bags, have snacks and then have sexual relations there. There was also a game room and upstairs in the arcade, there was another room, and it had a bed in there. We would go into that room and have sex there.”
Jackson had sexual contact with him in numerous rooms on his property, Safechuck claimed, from the movie theater to the swimming pool to anywhere else where they were alone. In a disturbing addition, he added that, during these encounters, there were “toys everywhere, things to do, so they just kinda mixed together.”
“It happened every day,” Safechuck said. “It sounds sick but it’s kind of like, when you’re first dating somebody and you do a lot of it. So it was very much like that.”
2. Jackson allegedly had a mock wedding with a child
In one scene that any viewer of “Leaving Neverland” is unlikely to forget, Safechuck described having a “mock wedding” with Jackson during their alleged relationship that he contends even included an expensive ring and the exchange of vows.
“We were like this married couple,” he said. “I say married because we had this mock wedding ceremony. We did this in his bedroom, and we like, filled out some vows, so like, we’re bonded forever. It felt good. And the ring is nice.”
Safechuck then pulled out a small jewelry box containing what he said is the ring Jackson gave him for the wedding, as well as other expensive jewelry that he alleges Jackson gave him as a reward for performing sexual acts for him. He and Jackson would go together to buy the jewelry and would pretend that the pieces were for someone else — “a female,” Safechuck said, whose hands were the same size as his. But Jackson would make him “earn the gift,” he claimed — sexually.
3. Jackson sent numerous faxes to Robson when they were apart
“Hello doo doo head,” began one message from the King of Pop.
At one point in Jackson’s relationship with the Robson family, Jackson bought them both fax machines so that he and Robson could communicate even more. Sometimes the family would come home and the floor would be littered with faxes that Jackson had sent while they were gone, Robson’s mother said. A number of these messages were included in the film, and show Jackson’s child-like handwriting, near constant compliments toward Robson, and repeated “I love you”s.
In one message, Jackson instructed “little one” — one of his nicknames for Robson — to “read [his] messages every night before sleeping … say 30 times before sleep.”
“Let’s make it a goal to love each other will all of our hearts, a bond that could never be broken,” he wrote in another.
4. Jackson pursued a child-like friendship with Safechuck
Soon after Safechuck first met Jackson at 10 years old while filming a Pepsi commercial together, he and the international superstar became friends. Safechuck, now an adult, detailed the growth of their friendship for the film, explaining that Jackson would often come over to the Safechuck home to watch movies and eat popcorn — “He loved popcorn,” Safechuck said — and to do all the typical things that young boys who are friends do together. But unlike with an average childhood friendship, Jackson was decades older than Safechuck when they first began to grow close to one another and spend time alone together.
“Michael would come to our house a lot. Michael and I would take walks around my neighborhood, just talking and walking,” Safechuck recalled. “It would be at nighttime, of course, so we could sort of hide. Soon as somebody noticed him, the newspapers would be there.”
The thought of an adult taking long walks alone at night with a child to whom he is not related would be a cause for concern for most, but Jackson’s decision to befriend a young boy and spend such intimate time with him went largely unquestioned, creating an opportune atmosphere for the alleged abuse to later occur.
5. Safechuck and Robson were graphic in describing their alleged encounters with Jackson
“Michael would like it if you would bend over and like, spread open your cheeks,” Safechuck recalled during part one of the documentary. “That’s what he liked. And then he would masturbate.”
Robson was similarly candid when describing his first alleged sexual experience with Jackson, claiming that the decades older pop star began to touch him sexually when they were sharing a bed together.
“The first thing I remember is Michael sort of, you know, moving his hand some across my legs. We’re both, um, clothed in PJs. And his hands got to my crotch area … sort of fondling there,” Robson said of his first alleged sexual encounter with Jackson. “Fondling my penis over the top of my pants. And then his hands went underneath my pants, and [he] started touching my penis underneath my pants. There was nothing aggressive about it, nothing abrasive. I never felt scared or anything like that. It just didn’t seem that strange.”
Safechuck and Robson’s allegations have sparked national debate, with conversation about Jackson and the claims against him taking over social media in recent weeks. Jackson’s public image as a kindhearted philanthropist is in stark contrast to the man – the alleged predator – described in the film, but as Winfrey pointed out during her “After Neverland” special, during which she interviewed Safechuck, Robson, and director Dan Reed, the conversation is “bigger than any one person” or “what Michael Jackson did or did not do.”
“It’s about this thing, this insidious pattern that’s happening in our culture that we refuse to look at,” she said.
6. The emotional manipulation allegedly started early
In one particularly memorable scene, Robson recalled the first time he and his sister were allowed to spend the night in Jackson’s bedroom. Robson was seven at the time and his sister was 10, and their parents allowed them to sleep in Jackson’s room shortly after meeting him. They spent the evening watching movies and having pillow fights, but the already abnormal sleepover took an even more disturbing turn the following night, when Robson woke up to find Jackson crying in a corner of the room.
“At some point I had fallen asleep, and I woke up, I could hear crying, like sulking and sobbing, and I could see a figure over in the corner, kind of scrunched up, sort of sobbing. It was kind of hard to get words out,” he said. “We were supposed to leave the next day, the whole family. ‘I’m just so sad that you guys are gonna leave me … I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want you guys to leave.’”
“I mean, I felt the same way,” he continued. “I felt like I almost had this kind of burden and guilt to like, ‘If I leave, like, what’s going to happen to him?’ He was so upset.”
The alleged sexual abuse began shortly afterwards, Robson claimed, after he was left alone at Neverland Ranch with Jackson for five days while the rest of his family went to visit the Grand Canyon. Safechuck and Robson later said during the Oprah-led "After Neverland" special that Jackson often cried in front of them, and alleged that he manipulated their emotions by doing so.
7. “I always get what I want.”
Robson’s mother Joy alleged that Jackson once asked her, point blank, if her son could stay with him for an extended period of time.
“Michael said to me, ‘Will you leave little one with me for a year?’” she said. While Robson recalled being “on board” with the idea of living with Jackson for a year, his mother did not agree.
“I was stunned and said absolutely not,” she said.
Jackson then allegedly claimed that Robson’s career would benefit if he lived with him, but Joy would not relent even after discussing it for hours. She said that Jackson then said, “I always get what I want.”
In a film that emphasizes just how much unchecked freedom money and fame can afford you with, Joy’s claim that Jackson himself may even acknowledged his privileged place in the world leaves a lasting impact.
[Photo: Getty Images]
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