Michael Jackson: What does controversial film mean for his legacy?

Michael Jackson

The life and times of Michael Jackson will come under fierce scrutiny when a controversial new documentary screens on US and UK television next month.

It’s almost ten years since his death, and Michael Jackson is back in the headlines. But it’s not the King of Pop’s musical legacy that has everyone talking rather a controversial film claiming he’s a child abuser.

Central claims in the film

Leaving Neverland, which premiered at the recent Sundance Film Festival, is a two-part four-hour examination of Jackson’s relationship with Wade Robson, now 36, and James Safechuck, now 40. As boys they were friends with Jackson. He showered them with attention and gifts at his Santa Monica ranch Neverland (no one disputes this). They also say he sexually abused them (the Jackson family resolutely deny this).

The claims are complicated by the fact that back in the 1990s when Jackson was under investigation for child abuse, Robson and Safechuck gave statements defending him. Why the change of story now? Robson and Safechuck say when questioned as children they still felt a sense of loyalty towards Jackson, despite what he had done. It was only once they had reached adulthood and had children of their own that they found the courage to confront what really happened and to speak out.

Jackson family reaction

Unsurprisingly the Jackson family tried to stop the doco being screened, arguing it is a one-sided hatchet job (the film’s director Dan Reed didn’t provide the Jackson family with a right of reply in the film and Jackson obviously can’t defend himself).

But the respective broadcasters, HBO in the US and Channel 4, have not relented. The film will air in the US on 3 and 4 March and in the UK on 7 and 8 March.

Channel 4 says: “Channel 4 viewers will make their own judgement about the testimony of the two victims interviewed in the film.”

Music industry reaction

It remains to be seen how the music industry responds to the controversy. But if the treatment of R Kelly is anything to go by, times do appear to be changing. The industry conveniently ignored the unsavoury rumours that dogged Kelly for years until finally – following a revelatory documentary series and the #MuteRKelly campaign on Twitter – it woke up. Kelly was dropped by Sony last month and Lady Gaga (belatedly) distanced herself from him. How will the industry react if the #MuteMichaelJackson campaign that already exists on social media gathers momentum?

Our mission is to empower the singer through their voice, performance, health, understanding of the biz, and mindset so they can go out and create to their heart’s content.