The creators of the series have also responded to backlash from the singer’s estate.
Leaving Neverland is four hours long.
Four hours of detailed footage and testimony from Wade Robson and James Safechuck about their alleged abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson at his Neverland Ranch. At the time of the reported abuse, Robson was seven and Safechuck was 10.
“It’s undeniably a kind of true-life horror movie,” Variety’s review read. “You walk out of it shaken, but on some level liberated by its dark exposé… Devastating.”
“Complicated and heartbreaking,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote. “It’s doubtful you’ll feel exactly the same after watching.” And for The Los Angeles Times: “The sheer variety and volume of horrifying disclosures made here… make Leaving Neverland both riveting and grueling, impossible to turn away from and the definition of a tough sit.”
After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, the series’ first trailer was released this morning ahead of its launch on HBO in the US and Channel 4 in the UK in March.
The most damning moments from the trailer are the interviews with the now adult Robson and Waechuck and their mothers as they try to process their trauma. Robson’s mother, in particular, struggles to reconcile with just how complicit she was in the alleged abuse.
“Secrets will eat you up, you feel so alone,” Waechuck says at one point.
“[Jackson] told me, if they ever found out what they were doing he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives,” Robson says. “I want to be able to speak the truth as loud as I had to speak the lie for so long.”
The docuseries has been dogged with controversy since it first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
The Jackson estate has disavowed the documentary. “This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” a statement from the estate read. “This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Jackson’s brother Jermaine added: “Just leave us alone, leave him alone, let him rest, please. He deserves to rest.”
But the filmmakers of Leaving Neverland have responded to the criticism of their work and stressed the importance of telling the stories of abuse survivors.
In a statement, director Dan Reed said: “If there’s anything we’ve learned during this time in our history, it’s that sexual abuse is complicated, and survivors’ voices need to be listened to. It took great courage for these two men to tell their stories and I have no question about their validity. I believe anyone who watches this film will see and feel the emotional toll on the men and their families and will appreciate the strength it takes to confront long-held secrets.”
Speaking to Variety, Reed added that the documentary is not about Jackson, it’s about the voices of these two young men. “This is not a movie about Michael Jackson abusing little boys,” Reed said. “It’s a movie about two families and how two families came to terms with what their sons revealed to them many years after Jackson died.”
Jackson always denied any allegations of abuse. In 2005, when legal proceedings were brought against him, Jackson was acquitted on all counts of child molestation, child intoxication and conspiracy to kidnap a child.
Leaving Neverland will air in the US on HBO on 3-4 March and in the UK on Channel 4 soon.