Michael Jackson’s brothers Jackie, Marlon and Tito and his nephew Taj speak out against HBO child sex abuse documentary “Leaving Neverland.”
Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
As the swirling backlash around “Leaving Neverland” has proven, the most die-hard Michael Jackson fans aren’t giving up faith in their idol anytime soon.
“Leaving Neverland,” which premiered on HBO from March 3-4, tells the story of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men now in their 30s and 40s who were befriended by Jackson as children when the singer was at the height of his fame, and who allege that Jackson sexually abused them.
Yet, in the week after the “Leaving Neverland” premiere, while plenty of celebrities and social media commenters alike said that they believed the film’s accusers, the reaction was more divided than the similarly-damning film “Surviving R. Kelly” on Lifetime, which was met with a more universal outcry against Kelly and swiftly led to his arrest.
Of course, unlike R. Kelly, Michael Jackson is no longer alive — which is one of the reasons Jackson accusers claim that the film is unfair. In addition to most of the Jackson family members’ public lambasting of the film, several celebrities have publicly criticized both the film and Oprah Winfrey, who interviewed Robson and Safechuck for the “After Neverland” special that aired following the HBO show.
And then, there are the fans, who have picketed broadcasting offices and swarmed the social media profiles of Oprah and other Jackson critics, attacking them for allegedly perpetuating lies, mobilizing under the #MJFam hashtag.
Read on for the key reasons that Jackson’s most loyal fans still support him.
‘Leaving Neverland’: All the controversies before the documentary’s premiere
An ‘ultimate betrayal’: Family protests Michael Jackson sex abuse film ahead of HBO airing
1. ‘Neverland’ unfairly smeared a dead legend who can’t defend himself
Some backlash to the “Leaving Neverland” documentary is based on the simple premise that Michael Jackson isn’t alive to defend his legacy.
Actress and comedian Mo’Nique, in a March episode of her YouTube podcast “Open Relationship”, criticized Oprah for hosting the “After Neverland” special, accusing her of exploiting a dead man “for ratings.”
“Here’s a man that was found not guilty in the eyes of the law. And you wait for 10 years after this man was deceased, to now do an interview with people who said they lied,” she said, referring to Robson and Safechuck’s previous public support of Jackson. “When we’re calling someone a molester and they’re no longer here… Michael Jackson is not here to defend himself, which is a major problem.”
Rapper T.I. echoed this point in an Instagram post defending Jackson, taking Mo’Nique’s thinking one step further to accuse the public of tearing down a black music icon while not giving the same damning treatment to white men.
“Dead men can’t speak. So what was the point again? Destroy another strong black historical LEGEND?!?!” he wrote. “It’s several examples of pedophilia in American History… if y’all pulling up all our old (expletive)… we gotta examine ELVIS PRESLEY, HUGH HEPHNER,and a whole slew of others guilty of the same if not more!!! BUT WHY US all the time? There’s an agenda to destroy OUR CULTURE.”
2. Michael Jackson was fully exonerated at his 2005 trial
Jackson fans often point to Michael Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial and the FBI’s decade-spanning investigation into his behavior in the 2000s, neither of which concluded that Jackson was guilty of a crime. Fans say that’s proof that he’s an innocent man, regardless of the allegations in “Leaving Neverland.”
“With Michael, he’s guilty until proven innocent,” a young Jackson fan named Luna Nightingale told U.K. broadcaster talkRADIO at a protest outside Channel 4’s London offices ahead of the U.K. premiere of the film. “Nobody else (other than Jackson) had three police raids, the FBI investigating him for ten years, plus the Department of Child Services, and so forth. Plus a trial, and an acquittal. And he’s still considered guilty. What does he have to do?”
Elgin Charles, TV personality and celebrity hairstylist, has also been a vocal Jackson defender on social media, and also invoked Jackson’s not guilty verdict and the FBI’s inconclusive investigation as proof Jackson hadn’t committed the crimes alleged by “Leaving Neverland.”
“Michael Jackson was under FBI surveillance for well over a decade,” Charles tweeted. “They found NOTHING to substantiate claims of child abuse. He was also fully exonerated following his ’05 trial. #LeavingNeverland fails to highlight these FACTS – and MJ is no longer here to defend himself.”
Michael Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson has been one of his family’s most vocal defenders of Jackson, and argued in a recent radio appearance that the FBI’s extensive investigation, which collected data on 17 years of Jackson’s life, would’ve revealed if Jackson was actually a criminal.
“Three hundred pages of documents, not one shred of evidence,” he said. “They would have locked him up if they had something.”
3. Robson and Safechuck lied in the past about Jackson, and they’re lying now
Robson and Safechuck, the two men at the center of “Leaving Neverland,” have a complicated history with Jackson. Both had previously denied that Jackson sexually abused them, with Robson taking the stand to testify in Jackson’s defense in the landmark 2005 case.
Robson later sued the Jackson estate in 2013, alleging that Jackson had molested him when he was a child.Safechuck filed a similar claim against Jackson’s estate in 2014, claiming that Robson’s suit had helped him realize the extent to which he was allegedly abused by Jackson during his childhood. Both lawsuits were eventually dismissed in December 2017.
Robson and Safechuck appealed the ruling and a decision from the appellate court is expected in the fall, so there might yet be a civil trial on their claims. That means Robson’s and Safechuck’s allegations in the film might go before a civil jury.
This has prompted many supporters to allege Robson and Safechuck are out for money.
“I’ve been around my uncle only thousands and thousands of hours. And since my uncle is not here to defend himself, the credibility of the accusers matter. And Wade and James have none,” Taj Jackson wrote in a recent tweet, also taking to Twitter to talk about his own relationship with Robson, sharing text messages and emails purportedly from Robson attempting to discredit Robson’s allegations.
“My family and I have known Wade and his family since he came to America,” he wrote in another tweet. “Don’t tell me a 4 hour one sided hit job that you watched is more reputable than people who actually knew him and saw his interactions. This is all about money and the desperate need to be relevant again.”
Sara Richards, a 26-year-old student in the U.K. who co-edits the pro-Jackson @MJJLegion Twitter fanpage, told the Los Angeles Times that believing Robson’s allegations means “you have to believe that he is a liar to a great degree.”
“To believe him now, you have to believe that he was lying for the last 20 years, including under oath,” she said, referencing Jackson’s 2005 trial. “I hear people saying you must believe the victims, which I strongly agree with. But when you’ve been faced with a situation where someone has been lying for 20 years straight, you can’t take it at face value.”
Media personality Geraldo Rivera also invoked the “believe victims” mantra of #MeToo, saying that Jackson’s accusers have taken advantage of Hollywood’s sexual assault reckoning of the past few years for their own attempted financial gain.
“Since #MeToo purported victims have been given extraordinary credibility,” he tweeted in response to “Leaving Neverland.” “That’s a good thing. Still, when allegations are made by those-like accusers of #MichaelJackson-who’ve strongly testified opposite is true-& who’ve a strong profit motive to lie-disbelief can’t be suspended”
Speaking about fans’ disbelief of Robson and Safechuck’s stories, “Leaving Neverland” director Dan Reed told USA TODAY that, as survivors of childhood sexual assault, the two men can’t be blamed for their late reckonings against Jackson after having been abused and brainwashed by Jackson as children.
“I think people need to know that with child sexual abuse, the damage is caused very early on, but it’s not manifested until quite a lot later,” Reed said. “And that’s something people need to realize because quite a few people don’t. Some of (Jackson’s) fans are like, “Why didn’t (Robson) say it before? Why did he defend Michael in court in 2005? He said nothing ever happened.’ They don’t understand and I can’t blame them for that, necessarily. We’re not all born with the timeline of child sexual abuse, but here we are.”
Contributing: Patrick Ryan
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