An Australian and an American who accuse Michael Jackson of molesting them as boys have received a solemn standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival following a screening of a documentary about their stories.
Wade Robson, a Brisbane-born dancer who says Jackson abused him from ages 7 to 14, and US computer programmer James Safechuck came forward as adults with their abuse allegations after Jackson’s death in 2009.
Leaving Neverland, a four-hour film that will air on HBO in the US and Channel 4 in the UK after its festival debut, is a sprawling account of how their lives intersected with Jackson’s at the height of his fame in the 80s and early 90s, and then later as adults when the trauma of what happened in their youth started to emerge in serious ways.
In addition to accounts from Mr Robson and Mr Safechuck themselves, the film also interviews family members including the boys’ mothers, wives and Mr Robson’s brother and sister.
Michael Jackson’s voice is heard in the film, through voicemails he left for Mr Robson and an “interview” Mr Safechuck did with Jackson aboard his private plane, and the film also shows some of the many faxes he sent to Robson.
“We can’t change what happened to us. And we can’t do anything about Michael,” Mr Robson said in a Q&A with the audience.
But he said he hopes it makes other survivors feel less isolated and raises awareness for anyone who is responsible for children.
'Leaving Neverland': A bombshell new documentary detailing sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson premiered today at #Sundance to a shellshocked audience. Our review: https://t.co/UbAEjuLano pic.twitter.com/jkV635XOw4
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) January 26, 2019
Mr Safechuck added that they weren’t paid to participate in the documentary, nor did they expect to get anything from it.
Leaving Neverland has been denounced by Michael Jackson’s estate and fans since the project was announced earlier this month.
Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005 in a case involving another young man.
Mr Robson testified at that trial, saying he had slept in Jackson’s room many times, but that Jackson had never molested him.
Mr Safechuck made similar statements to investigators as a boy.
Then in 2013 Robson filed a lawsuit that said stress and trauma had forced him to face the truth that he was sexually abused by Jackson.
Mr Safechuck filed a similar lawsuit the following year.
Both were dismissed for technical reasons and a judge did not evaluate the merits of the allegations.
Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed said he was entering new territory exploring an entertainment figure, instead of his usual subjects like terrorism and crime.
He told the men, who had talked to so many lawyers over the years, to just speak to him like he was an ordinary person on the street and not to worry about contradictions.
The film has stirred up controversy since it was announced just a few weeks ago.
The Jackson estate condemned it for rehashing “discredited allegations.”
An audience member brought up the reality that there are many Jackson fans who don’t believe them, and asked if they had a message for them.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything I need to say to them, except that I understand that it’s really hard to believe,” Mr Robson said.
“Because in a way, not that long ago, I was in the same position they were. Even though it happened to me, I still couldn’t believe. I still couldn’t believe that what Michael did to me was a bad thing. We can only accept and understand something when we’re ready.”