U.K. filmmaker Dan Reed has previously spoken with Q104.3’s Shelli Sonstein about his experiences directing documentaries about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (2009’s Terror in Mumbai) and Paris (2016’s Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks) but nothing he’s done yet has generated a reaction as extreme as his latest film. Leaving Neverland premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and the first half of the 4 hour doc. debuted on HBO last night (Sun. March 3rd). It’s stirred up so much controversy that a $100 million lawsuit has been filed in an effort to stop its broadcast.
Leaving Neverland focuses on the experiences of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who entered the life of music superstar Michael Jackson through the entertainment industry as talented children. Robson and Safechuck both state (in graphic detail) that Jackson established a powerful bond with them that escalated to a long term pattern of sexual abuse.
Reed tells Shelli that he wasn’t even all that familiar with Michael Jackson’s work or the allegations that continuously surrounded the international star. Reed only looked into the story after he was encouraged to discover what exactly was the true story behind the allegations. After thoroughly vetting the claims of Robson and Safechuck, he knew they needed a venue to be heard.
While both Robson and Safechuck previously denied any wrongdoing on the part of Jackson, with Robson even testifying on his behalf in 2005, Reed tells Shelli that the aftermath of abuse is a complicated web. Despite experiencing intense shame and fear sometimes victims still connect to the memories of that original, deep and seemingly innocent attachment to their abuser. This creates a type of emotional confusion where a victim might go so far as to protect their abuser rather than expose them. In this case Robson and Safechuck Jackson showered them (and their families) with intense personal attention, extravagant gifts and an access to a lifestyle beyond belief...as well as threats that would terrify any minor. It was only later in life, when they became parents themselves, did they realize the extent of how extremely inappropriate and criminal their experiences with Jackson had been.
Reed tells Shelli that that the goal of Leaving Neverland is not to topple the legacy of Jackson, but to thoroughly document the credible claims of abuse victims. Reed looks to expose the patterns and methods predators use to groom and then silence their victims. He hopes that others who have had similar trauma can openly cite Robson and Safechuck’s experiences so we can understand how these tragedies happen and hopefully prevent them.
Leaving Neverland Part 2 airs tonight (Mon. March 4th) on HBO. Check out Shelli Sonstein's full interview with Dan Reed below: