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What does Leaving Neverland mean for Michael Jackson’s legacy?

Whichever side you take, Dan Reed’s documentary is impossible to ignore

Not many things pop up in life that truly turn your stomach, but when they do, they don’t fade quickly. There’s a moment in Leaving Neverland where Wade Robson describes what it’s like for a seven-year-old boy to have a grown man’s penis in his mouth and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forget it. Robson describes it in a way that suggests he’s grieving for his younger self, detached from the experience yet irreparably affected by it. It was somehow even more devastating that I was sobbing while he somehow retained an impressive degree of composure.

Wade Robson

We’ve been numbed to a lot of the awful things that happen in life. We hear death tolls in Yemen and Syria on the news but they’re just numbers. We watch true crime documentaries but never manage to put ourselves in the shoes of the victims or their distraught families. We hear about sexual abuse of children but we don’t stop to imagine the catastrophic experience of being that child in that situation. It’s understandable, really. To be that aware and that compassionate would be to walk around like open wounds, feeling every jostle of life’s sharp elbows. But every now and then something pierces our armour, like Wade Robson’s terrifyingly detailed description of the abuse he suffered at Michael Jackson’s hands.

James Safechuck

There aren’t many answers in Leaving Neverland. It doesn’t seek to irrefutably prove Michael Jackson’s guilt or balance the accusations with testimony from the other side. It simply films two men offering up their trauma and allows the viewer to decide who to believe. A brief scan of Twitter shows that a lot of people take Robson and James Safechuck at their word and a lot of people don’t. The truth of the matter is, only a select few people will ever know the answer and one of those few is dead. We live in a society where nuance is fading into irrelevance and most people feel the need to have a definitive opinion, regardless of the information available. So few of us are able to say, “I don’t know and I’ll never know.”

Wade Robson meets Michael Jackson for the first time

We will never know. I know I couldn’t remain objective through four hours of two clearly traumatised men describing what was done to them. I have no proof that Michael Jackson abused them and I have no proof that he didn’t. I believe he did, faith and belief are strange concepts in an age that sees things in increasingly polarising shades of black and white. They certainly don’t stand up in a court of law, but they allow an opinion and the possibility that it could be wrong. What a novel idea.

Michael Jackson and James Safechuck

Some people are calling for Jackson to be “cancelled” while his fans, family and estate have gone to increasingly bizarre lengths to counteract Leaving Neverland. I don’t think Jackson should be silenced – if you want to keep listening to his music, then have at it – but neither should Robson and Safechuck. From my standpoint, it always seemed strange that Jackson had remained relatively untarnished by the constant swirl of rumours and accusations. I would imagine that that’s no longer the case. Leaving Neverland is too powerful to ignore and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the crack in the dam that precedes the deluge. Even if it doesn’t, it will ensure that never again will a popstar be afforded the opportunity to cause so much damage. And most importantly, Robson and Safechuck have finally been heard and, hopefully, can begin to heal.

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