Ahead of the UK premiere of Leaving Neverland, five women share their thoughts on Michael Jackson, the allegations against him and his legacy.
“Michael is an easy target because he is not here to defend himself, and the law does not protect the deceased from defamation, no matter how extreme the lies are.”
This is part of the statement released by the Michael Jackson estate in relation to Leaving Neverland, a two-part documentary detailing some of the child molestation allegations that have been levelled against the late singer.
The documentary is based on interviews with two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege they were groomed, sexually assaulted and raped by Jackson. Both men formed friendships with Jackson when they were children, aged five and nine respectively, and both share details of their alleged assaults in the “devastating” film.
Unsurprisingly, the documentary has attracted a huge amount of controversy, especially since both Robson and Safechuck had previously testified in support of Jackson in 1993, when allegations of sexual assault were first made against the singer. The case was later settled out of court, with Jackson paying a rumoured settlement of $20million. Numerous allegations came to light in the following years, and Jackson stood trial in 2005, before being found not guilty on all counts in June of that year.
In 2013, four years after Jackson’s death in 2009, Robson sued the estate, alleging that Jackson abused him for seven years from the age of seven. The following year, Safechuck also came forward, with allegations of being abused “hundreds” of times by Jackson. Both lawsuits were later dismissed.
The Leaving Neverland documentary, produced by Channel 4 and HBO, has been called a “public lynching” by the Jackson estate, who are now looking to sue HBO for $100 million.
Here, five women who grew up listening to Jackson’s music tell Stylist how they feel about the singer, the allegations against him and his legacy, ahead of the documentary being aired in the UK for the first time tonight.
“No matter how famous or successful you are as a person, this alleged behaviour cannot be excused”: Amy, 28
“Whenever a Michael Jackson song starts playing on the radio or on Spotify, I automatically sing along, thinking about what a great artist he was. That’s my initial thought, not the shocking stories surrounding his alleged involvement with underage boys. There’s no denying that Michael Jackson never had the chance to live a normal childhood. That doesn’t excuse the allegations if they are true, but it’s clear he had very troubled thoughts and behaviours which should have been addressed when the allegations first came to light.
“I love Michael Jackson and it would be easy to be naive and see the allegations as nothing more than that – just allegations. However, alleged victims should not be expected to suffer in silence. No matter how famous or successful you are as a person, this alleged behaviour cannot be excused. In my opinion, if Michael Jackson was still alive when the latest allegations [from Robson and Safechuck] had come to light, the victims would receive a pay off or compensation to keep quiet. But as he’s not around, why would they lie?”
“I don’t want to listen to his music anymore. I just can’t support it”: Harkiran, 32
“This has been a difficult one for me. I was a huge fan of Michael Jackson growing up, and I was obsessed with his music, so I found it hard to take in the allegations. But as I’ve gotten older, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that what’s been said about him is true.
“After watching Netflix’s Abducted in Plain Sight, I noticed the parallels between the kidnapper and Michael Jackson; him sharing a bed with children, and parents being separated from their kids. If a normal person and not a celebrity was behaving like that, it would ring alarm bells for me. So why isn’t this the same?
“I remember my mum giving me a cassette with Michael Jackson’s music on it – it was the first tape I owned. But now, I don’t want to listen to his music anymore. I just can’t support it. I can’t even look at him in the same way without thinking about those little boys.
“It’s important in the MeToo era to remember that men can be victims too, and they might deal with things differently. I think it’s really important the documentary is aired on TV.”
“He was such a huge part of my childhood, and one of those rare people whose music touches your life”: Tobi, 29
“Growing up, Michael Jackson was one of the artists who was idolised in my house. My parents and I loved him, and I still don’t think there is anyone better in terms of music. I was so sad when he died, because he was such a huge part of my childhood, and one of those rare people whose music touches your life.
“When it comes to the allegations against him, I feel conflicted. I haven’t listened to his music for a while, and everyone knows he slept in beds with young children. But while we’re always expected to believe victims, I feel incredibly uncomfortable in this case, because I think there is doubt about the truth of the allegations. I’m currently at a spot where I don’t know what to think or believe, but I no longer feel comfortable listening to his music.
“I do think it’s fair to hear the victim’s accounts, but I don’t understand why two men [Safechuck and Robson] would come out about this at the same time.”
“I just don’t want to believe it because I love him so much”: Lizzie, 28
“I love Michael Jackson and want to believe the allegations against him aren’t true. I think it’s unfair to bring them up after all these years, when his children have to go through it on their own, and I believe they’ve done it because there’s money involved. He’s not even here to defend himself, so it’s very one-sided. Even if the allegations are true, there’s nothing that can be done now – he’s dead.
“Michael Jackson had a terrible childhood and there was clearly something not right when he first started singing with the Jackson 5. But I don’t think this experience would make him do what people are accusing him of. I just don’t want to believe it because I love him so much. I will still listen to his music because it is timeless. He has inspired a lot of people, no matter what. His music will always be great and you can’t take that away from him.”
“I feel guilty, but I can separate the artist from the art”: Emily, 32
“I remember the first concerns regarding Michael Jackson coming out when I was a child. My mother told me she thought he was mentally a naive child, and while you couldn’t categorically rule out the possibility of inappropriate conduct, she thought the vast majority of the children were being manipulated by their parents, falsely accusing Jackson for monetary gain. This is what I grew up thinking.
“But the more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more I realise I don’t believe that. I recently watched Netflix’s Abducted in Plain Sight, and like many others, I was shocked that the parents had allowed a man to sleep in the same bed as their child. We sat agasp watching that documentary unfold, so we can’t ignore the fact that Michael Jackson also slept in beds with children.
“Knowing what I know about grooming and the pattern of predators, I don’t doubt the latest allegations [from Safechuck and Robson]. I don’t see how anyone would make these things up. However, I don’t turn off the radio when his songs start playing – they’re iconic. I do feel guilty about that, but I guess I can separate the artist from the art.”
Leaving Neverland will air on 6 March and 7 March at 9pm on Channel 4
Images: Channel 4