It’s astonishing that Leaving Neverland got made, especially since similarly risky films have historically had a rather difficult time. Only a few years ago, director Amy Berg’s An Open Secret, which claimed to have resounding new information about filmmaker Bryan Singer’s history of child abuse, was buried by Hollywood. It remains unreleased. Singer, meanwhile, has since directed his fourth X-Men movie and the multiple Oscar-winning box office smash, Bohemian Rhapsody.
I remember An Open Secret making exactly the same kind of noise in its festival run as Leaving Neverland did at Sundance this year. Both films promised unquestionable new proof that would end all debate about their subjects’ innocence; both films boasted shocking first-person testimony, and were heaved along by solid buzz.I have not seen An Open Secret, but I can imagine the sort of impact it could have had if it not been blacklisted. Perhaps Singer would not have been allowed to direct Rhapsody, and thereby not cash in the reported $40 million paycheque he received for it.
It remains to be seen what sort of impact Leaving Neverland will have on Michael Jackson’s legacy. MJ certainly has more defenders than Singer – he remains the world’s highest earning dead celebrity – and his fans’ dedication towards him has historically been proven during the well-publicised trials he has been through.Leaving Neverland, which was aired on HBO in two 2-hour parts over the weekend, is neither an indictment nor is it particularly journalistic. It is a staunchly one-sided account of Jackson’s alleged history of child sexual abuse, as told by two brave men who only recently decided to step forward with their stories.To make matters more complicated, one of them – the famed choreographer Wade Robson – had testified in defence of Jackson at both his previous trials. Robson first became acquainted with Jackson as a seven-year-old. Like so many children his age at the time, he worshipped the King of Pop – he’d plastered his walls with Jackson’s posters and taught himself all his signature dance moves.
The film’s other subject is Jimmy Savechuck, who was in many ways inspired to come forward with his own story after watching Robson go public with his. Like most accusers, both men have been pilloried by the public, who have questioned everything from their intentions to their reasons for not having said anything earlier.
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