“Many people are skeptical about the marriage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Pressley. They say that Lisa Marie is more of a sit at home type, while Michael Jackson is more a homosexual pedophile.”
-Norm MacDonald, on Saturday Night Live 1994
“The family that accused Michael Jackson of molesting their child are just in it for the money.” “Macaulay Culkin knew him for years and says that Jackson never touched him.” “He seems like such a sweet, innocent man who just loves children.” “What kind of parents leave their son with a 35-year-old man, anyway?”
We have all heard these excuses for Michael Jackson, or even thought them ourselves.
As a society, we tried to convince ourselves that Michael Jackson was innocent. We all watched his videos and enjoyed his music. We wanted to live in an America where our most iconic entertainer is an eccentric genius, not a monster.
If you are still not sure whether Michael Jackson really molested young boys, “Leaving Neverland” will convince you once and for all.
This isn’t a lurid, TMZ-style gotcha movie. It’s a four-hour, methodical story of how Michael Jackson met children, befriended their entire families, and made little boys his victims and accomplices.
The film introduces us to Australian choreographer Wade Robson. As a four-year-old, he became obsessed with Michael Jackson.
When MJ toured Australia in 1987, promoters held a dance contest to see which local children could best mimic Jackson’s signature dance moves. Even though the contest was for kids seven and up, five-year-old Wade won and got to meet his idol.
Michael Jackson didn’t try to convince Robson’s parents to let Wade stay with him. The pop star went to Robsons’ house and invited the entire family to his.
The Robson family stayed at Jackson’s sprawling Neverland Ranch. Wade’s mom remembers being dazzled and disoriented by the otherworldly beauty and opulence of the estate. Eventually, she agreed to let her son stay in Jackson’s bedroom.
It turns out that Neverland Ranch was designed specifically for stealthy sexual predation. There were loud staircases and alarms so that Jackson knew when people were coming near him. There was a closet within a closet where Jackson showed boys his pornography collection.
Wade Robson seems brave and convincing and he describes the sex acts he participated in. He also explains what the singer said to him that made the molestation seem like acts of love that he was compelled to keep secret for decades. Wade doesn’t see himself simply as a rape victim; he viewed Michael Jackson as his boyfriend and lover.
In addition to being a sexual deviant, apparently the King of Pop was also hideously selfish. For me, the film’s most upsetting scene is when Jackson convinces Wade’s mother to move to Los Angeles full time just so he has more convenient access to Wade.
Wade and his mother and sister moved to America and Wade’s older brother and bipolar father stayed in Australia. The scene where the family is splitting apart forever is as gut-wrenching as the sexual abuse.
Above all, director Dan Reed helps us understand why victims of abuse take years to tell anyone what happened to them and even defend the predator.
As for us as a society, we are a little complicit, too. We knew way back in 1994 that Michael Jackson was a pedophile. We just didn’t want to believe it.