As the first two hours of HBO’s controversial two-party series Leaving Neverland aired on Channel 4, viewers reacted with a mixture of shock and disgust on social media.
The first part of the documentary explored the beginnings of the late Michael Jackson’s relationship with two former child actors and performers – Wade Robson, now 36, and James Safechuck, now 41.
Read more: US celebrities react to Leaving Neverland
“He was the one of the kindest, most gentle, loving caring people I knew…he helped my career and creativity and all of those types of things…and he sexually abused me – for seven years,” started Wade Robson.
Michael Jackson with a young Wade Robson (Channel 4/HBO)”He’s already bigger than life – and then he likes you,” explained Safechuck.
The two men, now fathers of young children themselves, described how Jackson allegedly groomed and gradually sexually molested them from the age of seven (Robson) and ten (Safechuck).
They both went into graphic details of how Jackson allegedly sexually abused them up to their early teens. The allegations included ‘French kissing,’ forced anal penetration and oral sex.
Initial reactions from viewers were of shock and dismay.
Ok this Michael Jackson documentary is NUTS #LeavingNeverland really hard to watch.
— Josh Cuthbert (@JoshCuthbert) March 6, 2019
— Raj Baddhan (@RajBaddhan) March 6, 2019
Michael Jackson is canCELLED. Childhood is ruined and I’m so disgusted and livid at how an individual (famous or not) could act the way they do, DISGUSTING. #LeavingNeverland
— morgan (@morgandallasx) March 6, 2019
Many also declared they would now never listen to the music of the once King of Pop ever again.
Watched 1-1/2 hrs of #LeavingNeverland. Yep, I won’t be choosing to listen to Michael Jackson anymore.
— Misty Shock Rule (@minheeshock) March 6, 2019
Difficult to watch but I believed every single word that both men said & cannot believe Jackson got away with his evil deeds for as long as he did. Absolutely shocking. I will never listen to his music ever again. #LeavingNeverLand
— LouiseW (@Cogs39) March 6, 2019
#LeavingNeverland no matter what you can't look at him the same way. Can't listen to his music either
— Matt Rogers (@MattiiiBoi) March 6, 2019
The role of Robson and Safechuck’s mothers is also unsparingly addressed in the documentary. Safechuck’s mother describes Jackson as providing her family with the “lifestyle of the rich and famous” while Robson’s says Jackson appeared like a “kind” but “lonely” man.
And while Jackson is very much the villain of the piece, many viewers picked up on the uncomfortable willingness of the pair’s mothers to leave their children alone in the same bedroom as Jackson.
Robson has since said of his mother, Joy: “My relationship with my mother has grown immensely over the last six years. It was really challenging for a while. I’ve gone though lots of anger towards her. Lots of confusion. Thankfully we’ve been able to get through a lot of healing.”
While Safechuck has made a point of describing how his parents, including his mother Stephanie, were also groomed by Jackson.
“Michael spends a lot of time talking to your parents. Connecting with them and building relationships,” he has said. “But I try to look at it from their point of view, without letting them off the hook.”
Absolute respect for the victims in #LeavingNeverland and their families who just as the family of abducted in plain sight did, have highlighted how manipulative paedophiles groom entire families
— Rebecca (@overdiditdoll90) March 6, 2019
#leavingneverland wow… wonder if these parents know the parents of abducted in plain sight? 🤷🏻♀️ really not sure what to make of it?
— Louise duck (@daisylu23) March 6, 2019
While there were hundreds social media responses overwhelmingly in support of Robson and Safechuck’s claims, not everyone was convinced.
One of the most notable elements of the coverage of Jackson’s alleged abuses is the unwillingness of his family, friends and fans to accept it to be true.
In London, supporters of Jackson protested outside the headquarters of Channel 4 ahead of the airing of the documentary. They chanted “don’t believe the lies, seek the truth” and “facts don’t lie, people do.”
Jackson’s three children are said to be ‘devastated’ by the documentary. Close friends of Jackson, such as actor Corey Feldman, and British actor Mark Lester have described to film as “one-sided” and “sensationalist“.
And as the documentary aired, the divisions were all too apparent on social media with many accusing the victims of appearing ‘fake’ and ‘rehearsed’. X Factor winner Steve Brookstein called the show ‘bull***’ and claimed it was simply a show ‘about a family infatuated with a megastar.’
35 minutes in and so far it's about a family infatuated with a megastar. #LeavingNeverland
— Steve Brookstein (@stevebrookstein) March 6, 2019
Ok so the cynical me is thinking all way through they’re constantly looking to their right, a sign that’s long been associated with lying. It’s likes it’s rehearsed. Maybe it’s cos they have the same lawyer? #LeavingNeverland
— Tash Rogers (@NtashaR88) March 6, 2019
Wade’s eye movements at end of sentences ( looks down and to the side) is a clear recognised sign of LYING. His account is full of hate and ‘abuse’. First guy never mentions abuse, only love. Wade is clearly FAKE. Other guy, I believe, a deep friendship and love #LeavingNeverland
— Paul (@PaulG_Lon) March 6, 2019
NSPCC posted several tweets during the Channel 4 airing. This included an explanation of the term grooming and a helpline telephone number.
Children can be groomed online or in person, by a stranger or someone they know. They may be male or female and could be any age. Many children don’t understand they’ve been groomed or that it’s abuse. To find out more visit: https://t.co/o85esJ2RiZ #LeavingNeverLand pic.twitter.com/St12CcXT2A
— NSPCC (@NSPCC) March 6, 2019
— NSPCC (@NSPCC) March 6, 2019
The two-hour episode ended with both Robson and Safechuck describing the heartbreak they experienced as they were allegedly gradually replaced by other young boys by Jackson.
The second part of Leaving Neverland will air Thursday on Channel 4 at 9pm.