Before it was even released, Leaving Neverland was one of the most polarising and controversial releases of 2019, particularly because the late singer's estate has publicly condemned it on multiple occasions.
Representatives for the estate have branded Wade Robson and James Safechuck – two men who claim Jackson abused them for years when they were children – as "opportunists" and "admitted liars". Jackson's estate also released a concert film during the US premiere of Leaving Neverland to compete with the broadcast.
The first part of Leaving Neverland focuses on how Robson, Safechuck and their families were introduced to Jackson, and on the abuse they claim they suffered while on tour with him, and at Jackson's infamous Neverland ranch. In the second part, director Dan Reed hones in on the child sexual abuse trials against Jackson where Robson and Safechuck were witnesses, and the aftermath for them as adults where they were affected by trauma and depression.
Here are 10 of the most powerful moments in part two of Leaving Neverland:
(The article below contains details of the alleged sexual abuse of Robson and Safechuck by Jackson when they were children)
Safechuck felt it was his “job” to protect Jackson
“I remember going in there [to court] and being very robotic,” Safechuck says of the 1993 sexual abuse trial against Jackson, which was ultimately settled out of court. “We’d rehearsed so much it was like going through the motions… like part of my job, to do that for Michael.”
Jackson’s warning of what would happen if Robson told anyone what happened also stayed with him: “Without flinching, without batting an eyelash, my answer was ‘No. no way. Absolutely not’,” Robson says.
“The first thing that came to mind, for me, was everything Michael started saying to me when I was seven. That if anyone found out we were doing these sorts of things, these sexual things, that he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives. It was terrifying.”
Michael Jackson bought the Safechuck family a house after he testified on the pop star’s behalf
“We wanted to buy another house, and Michael gave us a loan at a very low percentage rate,” Stephanie Safechuck recalls. “My husband had already had a deposition, we were on Michael’s camp, my son also [testified] for Michael. And after that was all said and done is when Michael forgave the debt, [he] said ‘no I don’t want you to pay me anymore, it’s a gift’. So, he did buy us a house. It’s just coincidental, he wasn’t buying us off, but the timing’s right there. It just sounds bad.”
Jackson told Safechuck he would have to get married to quash speculation about his private life
Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley on 26 May 1994, a moment that Robson’s mother described as like “a child leaving the home”. Jackson apparently spoke about marriage in conversations with Safechuck, where he said he would "probably have to get married" but it "wouldn't mean anything".
Robson claims Jackson tried to have anal sex with him when he was 14
In one of the most disturbing moments of the second part of Leaving Neverland, Robson recalls a time where he had begun teaching dance choreography, and was invited to watch Jackson’s rehearsals for his History world tour.
“I don’t remember how exactly it evolved to this,” Robson says. “But what ended up happening is, Michael tried to penetrate me in my anus, with his penis. Trying for a while, I guess he was able to a bit, but it was really painful, too painful for me. So he stopped.”
“I don’t remember us talking about it, or acting like anything particularly different had happened. We kind of went back to our regular sexual routine.”
Robson claims that, the next morning, Jackson had a recording session to prepare for. He gave Robson a new camera to play with. That afternoon, his mother received a phone call from Jackson’s personal secretary telling him the pop star wanted to see Robson right away.
“He was super nervous, and said ‘What did you do with your underwear from last night?’ I said I took them off and showered and put new ones on. He said, ‘You gotta go home and find them. There might be some blood on them, and if there is you gotta get rid of them.’” Robson says he found the underwear, which had bloodstains on, and he threw them away.
“That was the last sexual experience that I remember with Michael,” Robson says.
Jackson had an “obsession” with Britney Spears
When Robson began working as a choreographer for major pop stars including NSync and Britney Spears, Jackson would allegedly call him to ask about Spears.
“He’d want to know what it was like working with her, and what she was like… ‘Isn’t she sexy, isn’t she beautiful’… wondering if I could set up a way for them to meet. And in those conversations as well, Michael was really interested in my sexual life with girls. I remember that being really weird, considering Michael and I’s sexual history. It was a weird pull, because at the same time I still loved him, deeply. Maybe one day I was gonna be the friend for him, that he could have a real honest vulnerable conversation with. The one person he could really be real with.”
The alleged abuse had a huge impact on the victims as adults
“Secrets will eat you up. It deteriorates you from the inside, like a part of you is dead,” Safechuck says. “It kind of took everything I had to function during the day, for people to see me as a functioning person. It took a lot of effort to keep it together. And then I would go home and be a wreck. And I’m sure it was hard on my wife.
“I couldn’t sleep. I would have panic attacks, and one of the weird things is not liking yourself and not knowing why you’re like that.”
Jackson tried to convinced Safechuck’s parents to testify for him in 2005, but by now Stephanie Safechuck had begun questioning the family’s loyalty. He also started calling Robson again.
“Here they are again, trying to take me down, these evil people,” Jackson allegedly told Robson.
By this point, Safechuck says he was having a nervous breakdown over the trauma resurfaced by the new trial, and he told his mother he didn’t want to have anything more to do with Jackson, and that he was “evil”. He claims Jackson got angry with him and threatened him with his lawyers, and claimed “they were gonna get me”.
Robson, who by this point was 21, also told his mother he wanted nothing to do with the trial. “The idea of this truth and the idea of Amanda [his wife] knowing about it, and my family knowing about it, and everybody in the entertainment business and my career knowing about it… was just a ridiculous idea that was never going to happen, in my mind,” he says. “Because my whole life would be over.”
Safechuck and Robson both experienced difficulty after they became fathers
“I think the abuse symptoms intensify when you have kids,” Safechuck says. “You see how innocent kids are. Having them kind of shoves it in your face.”
Robson found a therapist and tried to figure out what he was going through, but still felt unable to open up about what he says happened with Jackson. “I went through the story of my life with Michael, but just the good parts,” Robson says.
“I started thinking, how can I have such clear, negative feelings about if that stuff happened to [my son], but when I go through what happened to me, I don’t feel anything.”
Robson then recalls the moment, an hour after he had finally told his therapist what happened with Jackson, where he told his brother, wife and sister that the allegations were true.
Safechuck and Robson understand why it’s difficult to fans to believe them
“He had so many good parts about him, people think his music’s great so he’s great. And people grew up with him too, he’d be a star since he was a little kid,” Safechuck says. “So to think that that person is doing the worst thing possible to kids… it’s tough, I think, for people to wrap their heads around.”
But ultimately, they wanted to tell their stories, to encourage other sexual abuse survivors to come forward
“If my story of abuse with Michael, and all the ways it affected me… if speaking that truth… other survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of anybody could be helped by me coming forward, I wanted to be able to do that,” Robson says. “I wanted to be able to speak the truth as loud as I had to speak the lie.”
Leaving Neverland airs in the UK as two parts, on Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 march at 9pm on Channel 4