The emotionally explosive, graphic, heavily researched, and gut-wrenching ‘Leaving Neverland’, which takes center stage on HBO is not for the faint at heart. Its director, Dan Reed, has detailed the emotionally exhausting, at times scary, and challenging, lengths it took to tell the stories of Michael Jackson’s accuser’s Wade Robson and James Safechuck.
Though Reed says he approached Leaving Neverland with “all the skepticism and rigor that I would approach a story about a terrorist attack,” his skepticism did not find any justifications for why he should not reveal the contents of his illuminating and disturbing documentary.
Sued by the Michael Jackson estate for the documentary, Reed remains defiant. “It’s not a platform for the Jackson estate to launch their campaign of counter-information,” Reed tells NME. “That’s not what we provide. In this documentary, people make very serious allegations about Michael Jackson. It’s not a piece of showbiz shim-sham.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Dan Reed Has Been Making Documentaries for More Than 20 Years
Reed is a master documentary filmmaker. Reed has covered tough subjects ranging from terrorism to Christianity and religion, to the 9/11 attacks, to sex work and natural disasters.
When documenting Robson and Safechuck’s stories, he says that he did so carefully, as documentaries cannot be made without a good deal of research and verification. According to NPR, Reed took his time to interview and research Robson and Safechuck’s stories, and examined them with “a good deal of skepticism.”
After his research, Reed claims that he verified Robson and Safechuck’s stories with police documentation from 1993. Reed also investigated the 2003 to 2005 criminal records against Jackson. “We found nothing that contradicted and we found quite a lot that corroborated Wade and James’s stories,” Reed says.
2. Dan Reed Says He Didn’t Know Much About Michael Jackson Before ‘Leaving Neverland’
Not only did Reed not know about the inside scoop of Michael Jackson’s life, he says that ‘Leaving Neverland’ isn’t just about the now “allegedly criminal” and late King of Pop. “The film was never about Michael Jackson and I don’t really know that much about Michael Jackson,” Reed says to Billboard.
In his Billboard interview, Reed told Billboard that he no knowledge of, nor engagement with, Jackson’s story, prior to working on the documentary. It was only after he hired a researcher to delve deeper into the claims made by Jackson’s accusers, that he began to look into court cases that surfaced. Reed says that ‘Leaving Neverland’ is really about Robson and Safechuck “coming to terms with what happened to them as children.” These two alleged victims, Reed says, are in the best vocal position to teach families “about how this kind of grooming child sexual abuse really goes on.”
3. Dan Reed Received a Very Powerful Reaction to ‘Leaving Neverland ‘at Sundance Film Festival
In his Billboard interview, director Reed says he had been humbled and surprised by the audience’s reaction to his documentary, given how high on a pedestal people had hoisted Jackson. The audience’s reaction had been largely positive, Reed recounts.
“We didn’t know how people were gonna react at the end because there were people crying in the audience and there were people mumbling to each other and we had no idea what this all meant,” Reed says. Reed notes that the audience’s standing ovation after the premiere of Leaving Neverland was a “turning point” in his life, and in the lives of Robson and Safechuck. “I thought, ‘Wow, people have identified with them. People believe them.’”
Asked by NME why Martin Bashir’s 2003 documentary didn’t have as big an effect–with a huge Michael Jackson exhibition in London still being hosted last year, for example–Reed explained people’s lack of knowledge about concrete evidence against Jackson.
“Well, that’s the odd thing,” Reed said to NME. “When you talk to some people – if they’re not MJ crazies, or not utterly convinced that he was a pedophile – they’re in a sort of grey area where they’re like, ‘Yeah he was maybe a bit weird, a bit dodgy, maybe he was a pedophile, but we don’t really know’. And that’s the space that Jackson has inhabited since 2005, since he was acquitted. Most people have never been confronted with the evidence of his pedophile activity – until now.”
4. Dan Reed Reports That He’s Been Attacked by Michael Jackson Cultists
Asked by writer Mike Ryan of Uproxx about the feedback of ‘Leaving Neverland’ specifically from Michael Jackson fans who resent any unkind words being said about their idol, Reed gave some powerful responses. Reed labels such fans as “MJ cultists.”
“…You have the people I call the MJ cultists,” Reed says, describing his interaction with fanatic followers of Jackson. “People who are just fanatical devotees and their first response is to be very vicious and nasty and will fling dirt in every direction they can. They’ve been on my case pretty much since the announcement. Some of it very nasty, vicious. I don’t want to quote anything, but trust me, it’s not the kind of thing you want to read in the morning when you get up. But, mostly, I started to ignore it all and just filed it all in Junk and so did the other people in my company who had the misfortune to receive it.”
The attacks from these so-named cultists did not stop Reed from completing his documentary. Given that Jackson was such a fabric of this many people’s lives, Reed would not back down from attempting to illuminate what he says are truths of that fabric.
5. Dan Reed Thanks #MeToo for Helping More People Listen to Victims & Receive ‘Leaving Neverland’
The powerful aspect of Reed’s documentary is that it illuminates how criminalities against children work. The same men who accuse Jackson of abusing them as children also stated that he was kind to them. This type of criminal, confusing, and complex, phenomenon, is how vulnerable children across the world are groomed and lured into the hands of pedophiles, as Reed reports.
Reed states that “blind devotion”–by so much of the world–to Jackson kept his alleged victims from coming forward. Reed states that the film could still have been relevant and even powerful if Jackson were alive, but that the #MeToo movement also helped to persuade Robson’s mother to lend help and appear in production.”I think we’re blessed with a kind of gathering momentum behind the idea that we should listen to the people who say they’ve been sexually abused, whether they’re women or children or men,” Reed states to NPR, in gratitude for #MeToo.
Reed points to Robson and Safechuck’s love for Jackson as part of the complicated phenomenon of child abuse; it’s a “contradiction at the heart” of the film, says Reed to NPR. “It’s the complexity that drew me into wanting to really tell the story which is that in an abusive pedophile relationship there is both love affection mentoring friendship caring and there is sexual abuse. Those two things coexist,” Reed explains. “But we have to understand it, otherwise we’ll never understand child sexual abuse. We’ll never be able to keep our children safe which is the most important thing that I think people could get from this film.”