When a new documentary about Michael Jackson aired at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, it was met with controversy. Docuseries Leaving Neverland follows the story of two men who allege Jackson sexually abused them, but the late singer’s estate claims that the film is a false narrative. If you want to see what all the controversy is about, you might be wondering when Leaving Neverland premieres on HBO.
The two-part documentary premieres on Sunday, Mar. 3 and continues Monday, Mar. 4 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO. In case you forget to DVR, or you miss it, you can check your local listings to see when the network re-airs the broadcast. And for those looking to catch it on their mobile devices, the documentary should be available to stream on HBO Now, HBO Go, HBO On Demand and partner streaming platforms the same day.
In Leaving Neverland, two adult men — Wade Robson, 41 and James Safechuck, 37 — allege that they experienced years of sexual abuse by Jackson when they were children, and they describe their encounters in graphic detail. The documentary features photos and home videos of the two smiling and playing with Jackson as children, while they and their families describe how they met the singer and what they did at his Neverland Ranch.
But when the documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Jackson’s family and estate denied the men’s allegations and called the film a “public lynching” and “tabloid character assassination,” NBC News reported. "People have always loved to go after Michael,” his family said in a statement. “He was an easy target because he was unique. But Michael was subjected to a thorough investigation which included a surprise raid of Neverland and other properties as well as a jury trial where Michael was found to be COMPLETELY INNOCENT. There has never been one piece of proof of anything.”
The statement refers to Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial, which, after years of investigation and litigation, ended with his acquittal on all counts. According to CNN, while Jackson was alive, both men made sworn statements that he never molested them. During the 2005 trial, Robson testified in defense of Jackson and Safechuck allegedly also told investigators at one point that he was never molested by the singer.
According to Rolling Stone, when HBO first announced they would air Leaving Neverland, the Jackson estate sent HBO’s CEO Richard Plepler a 10-page letter criticizing the film and the network’s decision to air it. “The Estate spent years litigating with Robson and Safechuck, and had four different lawsuits by these two men dismissed with prejudice,” the estate said in the letter. Continuing:
We have plenty of further information and witnesses that would expose these two for who they are. If HBO wants to maintain its industry position as a valid source of news and fact, it owes an obligation to the public — not to mention the deceased Michael Jackson with whom HBO had previously partnered with during his lifetime — to actually investigate these matters. Barring that, this ‘documentary’ will say a lot more about HBO than it ever could about Michael Jackson.
On the heels of the HBO premiere of Leaving Neverland, the Jackson estate filed a lawsuit against the network. As reported by Reuters, the lawsuit claims that by airing the documentary, HBO is violating a 1992 contract in which the network was given rights to air “Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.” According to the lawsuit, the contract included a clause that states the network would not be allowed to disparage Jackson, and since the film is using footage from that concert to implicate the singer, the network is in “direct violation of the non-disparagement clause.”
In response to the lawsuit, HBO defended its decision to air the documentary. “Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged,” HBO said in a statement according to Reuters. “HBO will move forward with the airing of the two-part documentary on March 3rd and 4th. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”
Regardless of which side of the controversy you fall on, it’s important to listen to the alleged victims and give them a chance to tell their story. After that, with some due diligence and fact checking, you can come to your own conclusion on what you believe to be the truth.