Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Review: A look at the year's most controversial film, "Leaving Neverland"

Leaving Neverland Review
I firmly believe that "Leaving Neverland" will be the year's most controversial film. In fact, its left me stranded and devastated. This is going to probably be a shorter review because of it.

Before we really dig in, let's get something straight. This isn't a film about Michael Jackson. This is a movie about Wade Robson and James Safechuck. These two men were once dancers for Michael Jackson when they were young boys. They performed at his concerts. They sometimes went on world tours with him. Both boys became very close to Jackson throughout their formative years. Michael Jackson treated the boys like family, treated their families like family. They would even stay in the same room as Michael Jackson on his tours. They would spend the night has his Neverland Ranch. According to the men, Jackson would sexually assault the boys when they were alone. Before and after his early 90's trials of sexual assault from Jordy Chandler. While Robson and Safechuck never came forth with these allegations, they seemed to have put a damper on their lives, putting it in the most obvious of terms.

I am going to tread as carefully as I can in this review. As always, there is bile being spewed on all sides of the fence. There are dancers that have removed Michael Jackson music from their routines because of this documentary. Both Robson and Safechuck have received death threats due to this documentary. The last few years have been a whirlwind, it feels like every man even vaguely connected to show business has been accused of sexual assault or harassment and its divided our nation. It has sprouted two extremes; blindly believing the victim or blindly believing the accused. When in reality, there should be a balance to that. We should gather evidence, listen to everyone, keep an open mind, lose any sort of bias, make sure evidence and discussion make sense. Then reach a conclusion. Yes, I know the justice system isn't perfect. Jurors are human beings and sometimes they make mistakes. But there is no other way to deal with these things. It seems like "Leaving Neverland" is the ultimate representation of this back-and-forth.

The movie is essentially four hours of these men, and their families talking about their experiences with Michael Jackson. The focus is on Robson and Safechuck in particular. They get into rather graphic detail of spending the night at Jackson's house, spending time alone with Jackson in their hotel rooms. Both Robson and Safechuck aren't shy about admitting that they had extremely graphic sexual relationships with Jackson, and Jackson himself seemingly manipulated these young boys into thinking this was normal. The parents were, as they usually are in these crime documentaries, oblivious to what was happening. Their children were spending time with Michael Jackson, charity working, King of Pop, there is no way he'd be a creep right? 

The stories by Robson and Safechuck are so harrowing that its very easy to want to believe them. The thing is, the documentary is ONLY their accounts. Its hard to really get to the bottom of a case like this when the perpetrator is dead and already beat a case similar earlier in their life. So all we have are these accounts. There is really no other evidence to back the claims of these men. These men are definitely convincing, as are their families. But at the end of the day, the naysayers will keep on naysaying because this whole documentary is four hours of stories without a shred of evidence. It's a typical documentary designed to tug at your heart strings in order for you to get reaction.

But despite the design of the documentary, that doesn't automatically mean that Robson and Safechuck's claims are wrong. Which is why this documentary is such a great snapshot of what's going on in our country right now. We want to believe victims, even if their cases supply no evidence. We want to protect the innocent, even if their stories don't add up. How you feel about "Leaving Neverland" will depend solely on what you believe from it, which is kind of frustrating. If documentarian Dan Reed really wants me to completely believe that Micheal Jackson sexually assault these men in their formative years, I need more than just a harrowing, graphic story. It would have been much stronger overall had their been more evidence to back these claims.

Or did the documentary supply more evidence? Only in a subtle way? There are videos of Michael Jackson walking and being photographed holding hands with different children, including young Robson and Safechuck, which is strange behavior from a grown man. There were also the other allegations that got public attention. Alas, do these little tidbits prove anything? Again, it depends on what you believe and what you get from the material. I wish Dan Reed just gave us more to chew on, more to absorb. No two ways about it though, I think it is safe to say that Michael Jackson was a manipulative asshole to these kids. Sexual allegations aside, he made these young boys feel important, like he was their best friend. They didn't need a thing in the world except Michael. The thing is, he made new "best friends" every few months and it seemed like Robson and Safechuck were all cast aside, and never called unless Michael needed them. So on that level, Michael Jackson treated some boys like shit at ages when they were remarkably vulnerable. But is that a crime exactly? 

Like I said, I wish we got more to judge here. I wish we had more to look over. I would never try to say that these guys are wrong, or they lied. Because there's just not enough evidence here for that either. That's the problem on all accounts, there just isn't enough of anything here.

FINAL GRADE: B-

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