Lady Gaga apologizes for collaborating with R. Kelly in 2013; Sundance adds documentary about Michael Jackson accusers; Ousted Pixar chief John Lasseter to head Skydance Animation. (Jan. 10)
Not long after the premiere of “Surviving R. Kelly” painted a picture of decades of alleged sexual abuse by Kelly, another documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” will call into question the legacy of an even more legendary musician, Michael Jackson.
“Leaving Neverland,” which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday and will air on HBO this spring, tells the story of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men now in their 30s and 40s who were befriended by Jackson as children when the singer was at the height of his fame, and who allege that Jackson sexually abused them.
The estate denounced the documentary as “just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations” and “yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.”
Despite being acquitted of molestation charges in a trial in 2005, allegations that Jackson sexually abused children at the singer’s Neverland Ranch compound followed him to his death in 2009, and the documentary is sure to bring renewed attention to the accusations. Jackson’s celebrity supporters have been just as vocal as his critics: Kanye West defended Jackson onstage this month – decrying the documentary and arguing, “We can all enjoy all their music all we want. If we’re gonna tear down artists, let’s go ahead and (take) down all the art.”
Before the “Leaving Neverland” premiere, we revisit the facts of Jackson’s controversies as they unfolded:
When did the first allegations against Jackson emerge?
The first public allegation against Jackson for child molestation came in 1993, when he was accused in civil court of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy, Jordan Chandler. The civil suit, filed by the boy’s father, Evan, claimed that Jackson molested the boy repeatedly over a five-month period as the teenager spent time with Jackson at Neverland Ranch.
Jackson canceled his Dangerous World Tour, citing an addiction to painkillers. Police raided Neverland Ranch and subjected Jackson to a strip search in late 1993, which he called “the most humiliating ordeal of my life, one that no person should ever have to suffer.”
The case was settled out of court in early 1994 for a reported $22 million. No criminal charges were brought in the case, and Jackson admitted no wrongdoing, having denied the charges throughout.
When was Jackson first arrested?
In February 2003, the British documentary “Living with Michael Jackson” – which had followed Jackson around and filmed his life for much of 2002 – depicted Jackson talking about sharing his bed with children and holding hands with a 13-year-old boy, Gavin Arvizo.
The documentary prompted a criminal investigation of Jackson in Santa Barbara County. After a police raid on Neverland in November 2003, Jackson was charged with seven counts of child sexual molestation and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of committing a felony – stemming from claims he plied Gavin with alcohol.
The public frenzy over the People v. Jackson trial unfolded over the course of 2004 and 2005, including widely publicized incidents in which Jackson danced on the top of his SUV at his arraignment in January 2004 and showed up to court in his pajamas in March 2005. The media circus, which unfolded despite a gag order a judge imposed on the participants in the case, culminated in a 14-week trial in early 2005 in which a jury cleared Jackson of all charges on June 13, 2005.
Did the allegations continue after Jackson’s death?
In May 2013, nearly four years after Jackson died of cardiac arrest in June 2009, Wade Robson – who appears in the “Leaving Neverland” documentary – sued the Jackson estate, alleging that Jackson had molested him over a seven-year period, starting when he was 7 years old.
Robson had testified in Jackson’s defense at the singer’s trial in 2005, saying he spent the night at Neverland more than 20 times and slept in Jackson’s bed, but Jackson never molested him.
In 2015, a court ruled that Robson had filed his lawsuit too late to get any of Jackson’s estate, and a judge ruled in 2017 that the remaining defendants in the case, two Jackson-owned corporations, could not be held liable for Robson’s exposure to Jackson.
James Safechuck, the other man at the center of “Leaving Neverland,” filed a similar claim against Jackson’s estate in 2014, claiming Jackson sexually abused him when he was a child actor for several years after he appeared in Jackson’s Pepsi commercial at age 10. Safechuck, who was represented by some of the same legal team as Robson during his similar case at the time, saw his case denied for the same reasons as Robson’s, that he filed too late after Jackson’s death to claim any of his estate.
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