Michael Jackson’s brothers Jackie, Marlon and Tito and his nephew Taj speak out against HBO child sex abuse documentary “Leaving Neverland.”
Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
Viewers are getting closer to the premiere of the explosive new Michael Jackson documentary “Leaving Neverland,” that will air oo Sunday, March 3, and Monday, March 4, on HBO, both at 8 p.m.
The documentary tells the story of Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 40, who allege that Jackson began sexually abusing them at ages 7 and 10, respectively, when the singer was at the height of his fame.
The Michael Jackson estate and many of Jackson’s living family members have fought against the documentary from the initial news of its premiere, with the estate filing a $100 million lawsuit against HBO to fight back against its release.
Before “Leaving Neverland” airs Sunday, revisit the film’s painful road to its premiere.
Jackson’s family speaks: The film is an ‘ultimate betrayal’
Jan. 9: The Sundance Film Festival announces that the world premiere of “Leaving Neverland” has been added to the festival’s 2019 lineup. The Jackson estate issues a statement denouncing the documentary, calling “yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.”
“Through gut-wrenching interviews with the now-adult men and their families, “Leaving Neverland” crafts a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception, documenting the power of celebrity that allowed a revered figure to infiltrate the lives of starstruck children and their parents,” Sundance’s official synopsis read.
Jackson’s estate: The battles begin against HBO and ‘Leaving Neverland’
Jan. 16: Macaulay Culkin addresses his friendship with Michael Jackson on an episode of the podcast “Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum,” in which the 38-year-old “Home Alone” star described his relationship with Jackson as “so normal and mundane.”
“It’s almost easy to try say it was ‘weird’ or whatever, but it wasn’t, because it made sense,” Culkin said. “It’s one of my friendships that people question, only because of the fact that he was the most famous person in the world.”
“He was hilarious; he was sweet,” he added. “People don’t know how funny he (expletive) was.”
Culkin defends Jackson: He ‘wanted to make sure I wasn’t alone’
Jan. 25: “Leaving Neverland” premieres at Sundance. Police, as well as several protesters, gathered outside Park City’s Egyptian Theatre ahead of the screening, and healthcare professionals were on hand in the lobby for audience members who could be triggered by the film’s graphic descriptions of sexual abuse involving minors.
Hours before film’s premiere, the “Leaving Neverland” IMDB page was briefly vandalized, with users editing the page to show the film’s title as “Liar, Liar 2: The Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck Story,” according to Variety.
In a Q&A following the premiere, Robson addressed Jackson defenders and their anger over the film, saying “I don’t feel like there’s anything I need to say to them except that I understand that it’s really hard for them to believe.”
‘Leaving Neverland’ at Sundance: Here’s what we learned from watching
In a statement to USA TODAY following the Sundance premiere, Jackson’s estate said that the project “isn’t a documentary, it is the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death. The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact. … The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred.”
“Leaving Neverland” director Dan Reed responded to the Jackson family’s statement in a post-premiere interview with USA TODAY. “How can you call a four-hour documentary ‘tabloid’? That beats me,” Reed said. “It’s pretty much what you’d expect them to say. … The statement contains nothing that is of concern and no substantial criticism of the film. They obviously haven’t seen it, and I’m not engaging with the substance of what they’re saying.”
Director slams Jackson estate: ‘They obviously haven’t seen it’
Jan. 26: In response to the film’s premiere, Michael Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson tweeted his thoughts on Wade Robson, alleging that his “Leaving Neverland” participation is dishonest.
“My family and I have known Wade and his family since he came to America,” he wrote. “Don’t tell me a 4 hour one sided hit job that you watched is more reputable than people who actually knew him and saw his interactions. This is all about money and the desperate need to be relevant again.”
Jan. 28: The Jackson family issues a joint statement going after the media for allegedly accepting the accusers’ stories without proof.
“We are proud of what Michael Jackson stands for,” the family said in the statement sent to USA TODAY Monday by Diana Baron, a spokeswoman for the family. “We are furious that the media who, without a shred of proof or single piece of physical evidence, chose to believe the word of two admitted liars over the word of hundreds of families and friends around the world who spent time with Michael, many at Neverland, and experienced his legendary kindness and global generosity.”
“There has never been one piece of proof of anything,” the statement continued. “Yet the media is eager to believe these lies.”
Jackson family: The media ‘believes’ pedophilia accusers
Jan. 30: Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s brother, voiced his own opposition to “Leaving Neverland” during an interview with Good Morning Britain, saying he is “1,000 percent sure” his brother is innocent.
“Michael was tried by a jury, and he was acquitted on all of this because there was no real evidence, there was nothing there,” he said. “Our family are tired. We’re very tired. Let this man rest. He did a lot for the world. Let him rest … There is no truth to this documentary … He was cleared of all of this, it’s nonsense.”
Jermaine Jackson: The claims against my brother Michael are ‘nonsense’
Jan. 31: Corey Feldman, another actor who was linked to Jackson as a young star and has spoken about his own conflicted relationship with the actor in the past, told the Associated Press that while the accusations against Jackson “could be true,” that they didn’t represent the man that he knew as a friend.
“I haven’t read much, but I know that I don’t really want to watch it,” Feldman said. “I have my own reserved feelings about it, but I think that if you’re going to do something like that so late in the game after the fact it makes it very hard to believe. It doesn’t feel right to me.”
“I was friends with Michael. I don’t know anybody from our group of friends that ever saw him that way,” he continued. “It feels like a big stab in the back … It could be true, it could be true. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. From my own experiences, that’s not the guy I knew. But God forbid, there was any truth to any of it, and if there is then I’m very sorry for anything anybody experienced. At the same time, it’s pretty out there.”
Feb. 8: During HBO’s presentation at Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, the network announced that “Leaving Neverland” will premiere as a two-night event on Sunday, March 3, and Monday, March 4.
In response, the Jackson estate attorney Howard Weitzman released a 10-page letter to HBO chief executive Richard Plepler, offering to meet with HBO executives to prove that Robson and Safechuck’s stories are false.
“We know that this will go down as the most shameful episode in HBO’s history,” Weitzman wrote. “We know that Michael’s devoted fans, and all good people in the world, will not swiftly forgive HBO for its conduct.”
“Our plans remain unchanged,” HBO said in a statement responding to Weitzman’s letter. “Dan Reed is an award-winning filmmaker who has carefully documented these survivors’ accounts. People should reserve judgment until they see the film.”
Feb. 14: The Jackson estate canceled a planned Chicago tryout of a new jukebox musical, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You’ve Had Enough,” featuring Jackson’s music.
In a statement, the estate did not attribute the cancellation to the forthcoming “Leaving Neverland” premiere, saying that a labor dispute was the reason the show could not be staged.
“(The show’s) previously announced pre-Broadway engagement in Chicago has been cancelled due to scheduling difficulties brought about by the recent Actors Equity strike,” said the statement from the estate and its producing partner, Columbia Live Stage.
The statement also announced the Jackson estate’s intention to bring “Don’t Stop ‘Til You’ve Had Enough” straight to Broadway in the summer of 2020.
Feb. 21: The Jackson estate files a lawsuit against HBO in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging that, by co-producing and airing “Leaving Neverland,” the network would violate a 1992 contract for showing a Jackson concert in which it agreed not to disparage the singer.
The suit states that the contract covered future disparagement of Jackson, and that the film alleges Jackson molested children on the “Dangerous” tour that the concert footage came from. It asks the court to order arbitration, and says damages could exceed $100 million.
Michael Jackson estate sues: HBO says doc will air
Feb. 27: Michael Jackson’s brothers Marlon, Tito Jackson and Jackie Jackson, as well as Michael’s nephew and Tito’s son Taj Jackson, condemned “Leaving Neverland” in a new interview with USA TODAY published Wednesday.
The brothers reveal that none of them have seen the documentary, and that Taj is the only one who wanted to watch.
“Because I would be able to probably pick it apart, scene by scene,” Taj said. “I think they’re counting on the masses to see it and then our voices to be drowned out.”
“Taj is the same age as all these kids they used to spend nights (with) all the time,” Marlon Jackson said about Michael’s associations with children, which he maintained were innocent. “A bunch of kids would come over and have pillow fights, (watch) “Three Stooges,” swim, all this stuff. Watching movies, they’re tired, they’d fall asleep.”
“(Marlon’s) children were there,” Jackie said. “My kids were there. Tito’s children were there.”
An ‘ultimate betrayal’: Family protests Michael Jackson sex abuse film ahead of HBO airing
Feb. 27: HBO announces that Oprah Winfrey will host a Q&A with Jackson accusers Robson and Safechuck, set to air on HBO and Winfrey’s OWN network on March 4 at 10 p.m., immediately following the second night of “Leaving Neverland.”
“Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland” will feature Robson, Safechuck and director Reed speaking with Winfrey in a pre-recorded Q&A, hosted in front of an audience that includes survivors of sexual abuse.
Patrick Ryan, Maria Puente and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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