'Devastating' Michael Jackson documentary leaves audiences 'shellshocked' at Sundance

Leaving Neverland (Credit: HBO/Channel 4)
Leaving Neverland (Credit: HBO/Channel 4)

The controversial new four-hour documentary detailing allegations of prolonged sexual abuse at the hands of singer Michael Jackson has left viewers ‘shellshocked’ at the Sundance Film Festival.

Leaving Neverland, directed by British BAFTA winner Dan Reed, was premiered at the weekend and introduced by the festival director John Cooper, who informed that audience that there would be mental health professionals on hand in the lobby during the film’s interval.

Critics who saw the film described feeling ‘sick to the stomach’ during particularly sexually explicit moments.

Two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, are the subjects of the film, and allege that Jackson abused them when they were aged seven and 10.

The Jackson estate has denounced the film as a ‘lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson’.

Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson tweeted:

However, Safechuck and Robson, who appeared for a Q&A after the screening, said that were not paid for their involvement.

A handful of Jackson supporters protested outside the screening theatre, while Reed has reportedly received threats.

Security around the Egyptian Theater in Park City, Utah, where the screening took place, was beefed up by local law enforcement, police captain Phil Kirk telling Deadline: “Tensions are higher for this movie than anything I’ve ever seen at Sundance before.”

Defenders of Jackson have been quick to point out that Robson testified under oath in defence of Jackson during a 2005 trial involving another accuser who alleged Jackson abused him.

Robson said during the Q&A session: “I understand that it’s really hard for them to believe because, in a way, not that long ago, I was in the same position they were in.

“Even though it happened to me, I still couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing up until six years ago. So I understand. We can only accept and understand something when we’re ready, and maybe we’ll never be ready. Maybe we will. So that’s their journey.”

Safechuck added: “This was really just trying to tell the story and shine light on it. The same way, knowing that Wade went through it, if we can give other people that same connection and comfort that we’ve gone through something like this, that’s the point.”

The film will premiere on HBO later this year.

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