'Leaving Neverland' director: Doco shouldn't stop Jackson's music

by RNZ / 11 March, 2019

Dan Reed, director of Leaving Neverland Photo: Dominique Desrue

Michael Jackson was clever and succeeding in convincing children they were not being abused, the director of the Leaving Neverland documentary about the abuse has told RNZ. 

The programme being broadcast on TVNZ 1 interviews Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who describe being befriended, groomed and abused by Jackson.

In separate but parallel stories, Safechuck at age 10 and Robson at age seven were each befriended by Jackson when he was at the height of his fame.

Director Dan Reed told Sunday Afternoon's Jim Mora the aim of the documentary was to explain how paedophiles work and how they manipulate their victims into concealing the abuse.

He said Jackson was very persuasive.

"The little boys being abused by Michael didn't feel that they were being harmed or abused. They felt - you know, they'd been seduced so they felt just like adults feel in a relationship. 

"He was kind and the kindness that he displayed I think sort of still resonates and you know the magnitude of his fame, his personality, his charisma, and I think they're still struggling with what to make of that."

He said it was this persuasiveness that meant Robson supported Jackson in a trial against him in 2005. 

"He still loved Michael Jackson in 2005. He was 22, he still felt an immense amount of loyalty to the man who had nurtured his talents, who had done all these wonderful things for him sadly with the aim of sexually abusing him. 

"He says that he wished that he'd had the strength to say the truth on the witness stand ... it would have involved turning his life upside down. 

He said the entire foundation of Robson's life and his family's life hinged on the relationship with Michael.

"To suddenly get up on the witness stand and say ... he was actually a monster who raped me, that was beyond Wade's strength at the time."

Watch the Leaving Neverland trailer:

He said it wasn't until Robson became a father himself that he had a change of perspective. 

"He describes this transformative moment in the film he looks at this defenceless, vulnerable little being and begins to imagine Michael doing to this little boy what he'd done to little Wade at the age of seven. 

"I think that drove him to mention this to his psychotherapist and that's the beginning of his awakening. Now he is completely unambiguous about what happened." 

'People who enabled everything he did'

Reed said he believes Jackson's staff and family enabled his abuse over many years.

"The Jackson organisation and the Jackson camp, they've always portrayed Michael as the victim and they've always slimed and smeared the children who came forward - there's been at least five so far. 

"So, it feels almost like heresy to challenge him in any way." 

He said the fact the Jackson Foundation, which is suing over the film, has clung so closely to the disparity between Robson's testimony and his statements in the film is shocking. 

"What they're saying presumably, and I can't believe this is what they mean, they're saying 'look, Wade is a perjurer ... they're saying that in reality he lied on the witness stand.

"We know that he was defending Michael - then they must be saying that Michael was a pedophile." 

"There's stacks and stacks and stacks of evidence and the family themselves don't deny that this man was spending night after night after night with little boys." 

"Jackson was surrounded by people who enabled everything he did. There was members of his staff who are on the record as having warned newcomers to the estate 'never leave your child alone with Michael' and that's on the record."  

Michael Jackson entering the Santa Barbara County Superior Court to hear the verdict read in his child molestation case, June 13, 2005. Kevork Djansezian-Pool/Getty Images

Michael Jackson entering the Santa Barbara County Superior Court to hear the verdict read in his child molestation case, June 13, 2005. Kevork Djansezian-Pool/Getty Images

'It was important firstly to confront people with what it really means'

Reed said many fans of Jackson's music closed their eyes to the stories being told by the children, and it was important for the film to accurately portray abuse. 

"You have to be careful for putting anything like that on television: it can backfire, it can disgust people or it can feel exploitative.

"I do think it was important firstly to confront people with what it really means - what this very serious crime actually involves against children, and secondly to draw a line between the image that Jackson portrayed of himself as this man who'd never had a childhood and had this innocent love for children.

"We needed people to understand that this was sex - it was the kind of sex that grownups have - and you need to describe it in some detail." 

However, he said he was not advocating for people to stop playing Jackson's music, as was done on some New Zealand radio stations

"It's hard for people because Michael was so talented and such a huge figure ... his songs are almost a part of the fabric of our culture. 

"Blind devotion for Michael makes people disbelieve these - essentially, children - who have been terribly hurt. People ask 'why should we believe them'. Why should we disbelieve them?"

He said people had to make those choices about Jackson's music on their own. 

"Great artists are often tormented, strange people and I guess their isolation from society gives them a different perspective.

"I'm not a book burner by heart, I'm not saying we should never again play the music of Michael Jackson - I think that would be foolish and inappropriate ... it's really a film about these two families coming to terms with what their sons tell them really happened. 

"Michael had been abused himself and certainly because he was lying about all these terrible acts he was committing with children, that's a very corrosive thing to hide in your soul and I think it would have eaten away at him. 

He said what he set out to do was to reveal a poorly understood truth about  the psychology of child sexual abuse. 

"It's scary, it's big, people's reactions are very intense, sometimes even violent. 

"I cling to the fact that we've made something that will educate people and open a lot of people's eyes and enable people to understand the stories of survivors of child sexual abuse. 

"That's important. If more people understood it there'd be less opportunity for predators to do their thing." 

This article was first published as part of Radio NZ's Sunday Morning programme.


Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason. 
Lifeline: 0800 543 354  or text HELP to 4357
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7) 
Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Sexual Violence:

NZ Police
Victim Support 0800 842 846
Rape Crisis  0800 88 33 00 
Rape Prevention Education
HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0 
Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour

Latest

Medical specialist and writer Eileen Merriman's prescription for success
104920 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Medical specialist and writer Eileen Merriman's pr…

by Clare de Lore

Eileen Merriman doesn’t have to dig too deep to find the angst, humour and drama for her award-winning novels.

Read more
We still remember them: The best in new Anzac Day reading
105020 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

We still remember them: The best in new Anzac Day…

by Russell Baillie

The tide of great New Zealand books on the world wars shows no sign of going out. Russell Baillie reviews four new Anzac books.

Read more
Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for kids
105028 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for…

by Ann Packer

A telegraph “boy”, heroic animals and even shell-shock make for engaging reads for children.

Read more
Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of restoring NZ's lighthouses
104978 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of res…

by Fiona Terry

Ensuring lighthouses stay “shipshape” isn’t a job for the faint-hearted.

Read more
The former major reuniting service medals with their rightful owners
105015 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The former major reuniting service medals with the…

by Fiona Terry

Service medals are being reunited with their rightful owners thanks to former major Ian Martyn and his determined research.

Read more
PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of social media for terrorism
104952 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Politics

PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of soc…

by Noted

A meeting aims to see world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’.

Read more
Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story from tedium
104942 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story…

by James Robins

The fictionalised account of a British woman who spied for the Soviet Union is stiflingly quaint.

Read more
What to watch on TV this Anzac Day
104749 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Television

What to watch on TV this Anzac Day

by Fiona Rae

Māori TV once again devotes the day to Anzac programming, including a live broadcast from Gallipoli.

Read more