Leaving Neverland Premiere Leaves Audiences Stunned
By Allie Waxman
Director Dan Reed and film subjects Wade Robson and James Safechuck spoke after the world premiere of the documentary in which the men allege Michael Jackson abused them as children.
The four-hour world premiere of Leaving Neverland was one of Sundance’s most anticipated tickets. The two-part documentary, which shares the stories of two men who allege Michael Jackson sexually abused them as children, takes a survivor-centric approach; the lasting impact of the abuse is at its center. Both men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, waited years to come forward with their accounts, which is common for childhood survivors, according to experts.
Viewers of the film were visibly impacted after both parts of the screening, wiping away tears. The post-screening mood was an expression of admiration and appreciation for Robson and Safechuck who bravely shared their stories.
As director Dan Reed brought Robson and Safechuck to the stage for a Q&A, the audience responded with a minutes-long standing ovation. Here are some takeaways from the moving conversation.
Dan Reed hunted the truth.
Reed approached the film with the goal of seeking the truth and giving Robson and Safechuck a place to share their stories without the fear that they would be distorted or sensationalized. “Both of them had spoken to therapists, and I said, ‘Just speak the story in the simplest and most honest way you can,’” shared the director. “This might mean that, for the first time, someone might be able to tell the story of what actually happened.”
Safechuck and Robson are still on the road to forgiveness.
Both film subjects and their families watched Leaving Neverland prior to the screening and Safechuck and Robson expressed initially having trepidation over how the revelations in the film might affect their family dynamics. “My mom saw it, and I think she was looking for forgiveness in the film,” shared Safechuck. ”I didn’t quite give it to her and I think that was hurtful for her. Forgiveness isn’t a line you cross, it’s a road you take. I’m on that road and it’ll mean so much more when it’s fully earned.”
Robson also shared his concern about his mother’s response. “I was really scared for my mother to see it,” he admitted. “Things I said [in the film], things I didn’t say had never really been communicated within our family. It was an intense experience. Hopefully it can open new doors for healing.”
They understand the conflict Jackson fans are feeling.
When asked what he’d like Jackson’s loyal fans to know, Robson expressed empathy: “I don’t feel like there’s anything I need to say to them except that I understand that it’s really hard for them to believe. In a way, not that long ago, I was in the same position,” he admitted. “Even though it happened to me, I still couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing. We can only accept and understand when we’re ready. That’s their journey.”