Michael Jackson – Music genius vs alleged monster molester?
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Michael Jackson – Music genius vs alleged monster molester?

The world seems to be torn when it comes to the new documentary film that accuses Michael Jackson of being a monster molester. Terence Pillay looks at the polarization of opinion on the matter.

Micheal Jackson
HECTOR MATA / POOL / AFP

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A few weeks ago I sat down to watch Leaving Neverland, the documentary film that alleges that the late great Michael Jackson was a child abuser. The film recounts the stories of two men who claim that Jackson sexually abused them when they were still children. Now adults with children of their own, they felt they needed to come clean to British producer and director of the film, Dan Reed.

Watch the trailer below:

Since the film emerged, audiences have been polarized by its content. Die-hard fans are adamant that their musical hero could never have done the heinous things the men claims he had done to them, and the other half of the audience says that child abuse allegations have dogged the singer since the eighties and believe the men’s side of things. In fact, they reference a number of out of court settlements with the families of young boys who made similar claims and who signed a non-disclosure agreement with the singer.

I was personally quite disturbed by the film. I didn’t care much for Michael Jackson, but even if there was a modicum of truth to the allegations, the bigger picture was that abuse was happening right under the parent’s noses and nobody knew what was going on or chose to turn a blind eye.

So for those who haven’t seen the film yet – Leaving Neverland is a documentary that focuses on two men, Wade Robson, and James Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused as children by the singer Michael Jackson. It also examines the effects on their families. The documentary resulted in a backlash against Jackson and a reassessment of his legacy.

It all started In 1993, when Jackson was accused of sexually molesting 13-year-old Jordan Chandler. Jackson denied the claims and settled the civil case out of court for a payment of $15 million plus legal fees; the settlement included a nondisclosure agreement. No criminal charges were filed. In 2005, following further allegations, prompted by the 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson in which he was holding hands with a boy named Gavin Arvizo and talked about his sleepovers with children, Jackson was again acquitted of child sexual abuse charges.

Then in 2013, choreographer Robson filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Jackson had sexually abused him for seven years, beginning when he was seven-years-old. In 2014, a case was filed by James Safechuck after seeing an interview with Robson, alleging sexual abuse over a four-year period from the age of ten. Both had previously testified in defence of Jackson — Safechuck as a child during the 1993 investigation, Robson both as a child in 1993 and as a young adult in 2005. In 2015, Robson's case against Jackson's estate was dismissed on the grounds that it had been filed too late, and in 2017 it was ruled that neither of the corporate entities formerly owned by Jackson could be held accountable for Jackson's alleged actions.

The filmmaker only interviews Robson and Safechuck and their families and doesn’t tell Jackson’s side of the story through his family, friends or employees and doesn’t give them a right to reply. Many have criticised the film for being one-sided and the participants even received death threats from die-hard Jackson fans before its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January this year. Dan Reed has responded to the criticism by describing his film as a "study of the psychology of child sexual abuse, told through two ordinary families who were groomed for 20 years by a paedophile masquerading as a trusted friend" 

The response from Jackson’s family was that he was never ever convicted in a court of law. But is it not the same criminal justice system that didn’t convict OJ Simpson or only recently filed charges against singer R Kelly, after the Crime and Investigation series Surviving R Kelly emerged? But these abuse claims were known to the police and the public for more than two decades.

For me, the interesting thing in all of this was the Oprah Winfrey special on the issue called After Neverland. In it, Winfrey interviewed Robson and Safechuck as well as the film’s director in front of an audience of one hundred survivors of child sex abuse. She listened to their stories, asked the tough questions everyone else was asking and also canvassed comment from the audience members.

What struck me as my very own “aha moment” was the fact that when we think of child abuse and child molestation, we all think of it as a brutal attack; a violent crime against a child that involves an assault, or an extremely physical attack, when in fact cases of child abuse involves a child being taken advantage of and manipulated by someone he or she trusts (almost always).

The abuser will first groom that child, offer him or her things like toys, sweets, the promise of holidays away and so on in an effort to get that child to trust and accept him as someone he or she could be safe around. In the case of the Jackson saga, the men say the singer groomed their entire families over a period of twenty years. He offered them everything from trips overseas to time away at luxury hotels or his famous Neverland ranch. He would show up at their houses and live with them for periods at a time. He inserted himself into their lives and they trusted him implicitly.

The men say he was so in love with them that they didn’t register the alleged inappropriate sexual behavior when they shared a bed with him as abuse. Both men say they only got their moments of clarity when they had their own children and thought about how they would feel if something like what they went through happened to their kids.

Mike Smallcombe, a British journalist and the author of Making Michael, has now come forward and says he has proof that the men are lying about some of the locations in which they say the abuse took place. Dan Reed has responded, saying that the men probably got their timelines wrong because they were remembering these incidents when they were still children.

So who do we believe? Watch the film and decide for yourself!

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You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts

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