Leaving Neverland has rocked the media industry in recent weeks. It first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and has been the subject of mass criticism and scandal ever since. The four-hour documentary features interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege that they were sexually abused and raped by Michael Jackson during the late 80s and early 90s. Given that the Thriller star was accused of child molestation in 2005 (and was then acquitted), it’s unsurprising that the film has made the headlines it has. The media loves a scandal.
First things first, let’s get one thing clear: it’s unlikely that most of the stuff said in the documentary is all completely and totally factual. We have the word of two men, against one of the biggest stars in the world, who can no longer defend himself. No one else will ever know what happened in those rooms. And that’s not me victim blaming, or attempting to defend MJ because I’m such a massive fan of his — I actually can’t stand his music. But the truth is, Wade Robson tried to make money off the back of such allegations on multiple previous occasions. He stated in an interview that he was struggling with life following his relationship with MJ, and he even wrote a “tell all” book about how he was abused — which not a single publisher or agent wanted anything to do with, because there was no evidential proof. Plus, both him and Safechuck swore under oath that their relationship with MJ was never inappropriate.
However, whether the documentary is true or not, it has shone a light on something that has been totally and completely brushed under the carpet: Michael Jackson had a really problematic relationship with children. Sure, maybe nothing went on in those rooms with Robson and Safechuck, but the fact is that Jackson, a 30-year-old man, wanted 10-year-old boys to sleep over in his room. And that’s not okay.
This isn’t speculation. Michael Jackson himself admitted to sharing his bed with children, most notably Macaulay Caulkin and his brother, Kevin. In fact, Macaulay’s relationship with MJ was so intense that he was named Paris Jackson’s godfather. While Macaulay has consistently spoken against any allegations that MJ abused him, he has been very open and candid about the nature of their relationship: “he was like my best friend growing up for a stretch of my life.” Sure, but this best friend was 30 years old, hanging out with an eight-year-old who he didn’t know, and who wasn’t family.
This wasn’t all. There have been countless allegations made against Michael Jackson — even involving the younger members of his own family. The first accusation came in 1993, after Jordan Chandler told his parents that MJ was molesting him, after spending 70 nights sharing the same bed. Brett Barnes also spent hundreds of nights sleeping in a bed with the singer, but none of the parties involved thought this was odd. MJ claimed: “when you say bed, you are thinking sexual. They make that sexual. It’s not sexual. We’re going to sleep, I tuck them in and I put a little music on and when it’s story time I read a book”. It’s almost as if, by engaging in these relationships, Jackson was trying to regain the childhood he lost. A child stuck in a man’s body.
Michael Jackson loved kids. It’s just very clear that he wasn’t able to process these paternal feelings in a healthy, safe way.
The most obvious insight into Michael Jackson’s mind regarding childhood is the fact he named his home estate Neverland, after the story of Peter Pan — the boy who refused to grow up. It’s clear that Jackson struggled with his mental health — he died from an overdose of prescription painkillers, for one, and he was, for all intents and purposes, the boy who couldn’t grow up in this narrative. The estate was his home, his own private amusement park — and there was even a petting zoo. It was a child’s dream, and for a man who sacrificed his own childhood for a career, it’s no wonder it became a sanctuary to retreat into.
The mental issues that Jackson faced don’t excuse his problematic behaviour, but they shine a light on something terrifying in the music industry: anything can be ignored if the subject matter makes people uncomfortable enough. You’d hope we’d have improved as a society since Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, but Mac Miller’s sudden death last September proved otherwise.