There seems to be an endless cavalcade of headlines about the gut-wrenching and disturbing documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” that finally aired on HBO Sunday night with part two and a post-film interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey on Monday night.
“Leaving Neverland” documents the story of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who describe in the most heartbreaking and wrenching ways the abuse they say they suffered at the hands of the late Michael Jackson when they were little boys.While Michael’s family, fans and the executors of his multi-billion dollar estate, have blasted everyone involved in the film, this fact remains indisputable:
Only the young men know what really happened between the sheets at Neverland, the King of Pop’s sprawling 2,700-acre estate in the Santa Ynez Valley of California.
And, while it’s noble that Tito, Jackie, Marlon, Jermaine and the lawyers who represent Michael’s estate have pushed back against the film, one thing director Dan Reed’s documentary does make clear:
Michael and his family really were strangers over the last 25 years of his life.
They didn’t know him and he really didn’t care to know them.
His interactions with his brothers, whom he once led as the Jackson 5 and later as The Jacksons, were mere token visits on “Family Day” once a year.
During the 1993 investigation into Michael’s alleged pedophilia, his sister Latoya created a firestorm by saying that she “would not be a silent collaborator in my brother’s crimes against little children.”
Latoya claimed that she and her mother had seen checks written out for “lots of money” to the families of her brother’s alleged child victims. Her mother, Katherine, “was so disgusted that she wrote a letter in which she used (a homophobic slur) to describe Michael,” Latoya alleged.
Katherine vehemently denied “every word Latoya had to say.”
She’d been brainwashed, the Jacksons said.
For this reporter and one-time close family friend, their denials were shattered years later when the Jackson family forfeited possession of a storage unit upon being sued in 2002.
That storage unit, Jermaine and Katherine would admit to me, contained “those checks and that letter” Latoya had spoken of.
Several Jacksons, including Jermaine, Rebbie, Katherine and even Joseph, often confided in me and much of those discussions have remained confidential despite the sour ending to the friendship.
Jermaine and Rebbie both poured out their souls for book proposals. Others, including Tito, Jackie and Randy, also often spoke openly.
“Michael is messed up,” Randy has said.
One family member expressed his fear that “Michael may have touched [his son].”
My response at the time: Ridiculous.
His take: “I hope not,” and “How would you know?”
Like him, I didn’t really know. At the time, I had my doubts.
Michael’s family often fumed about his “carrying on with little white boys,” though they never said he was molesting his special friends.
One morning in 2003, I received in succession, two phone calls pleading for my intervention. One from a girlfriend of Jermaine’s and the other from one of Michael’s nephews.
Both had the same concern: A teenage family member was telling others that Michael was guilty of bad behavior with little boys – this was taking place while police were investigating Michael.
Authorities eventually questioned the teen family member and two lead detectives said the boy denied that Michael had done anything wrong, but they were convinced he knew a lot more than what he said.
One month before jury selection in Michael’s 2005 trial, members of the Jackson family attended my wedding on Long Island.
At a dinner, a heated argument between two members ensued over whether Michael was a pedophile.
I interjected, “Let me ask you a question, you all still believe he was regularly high on drugs, correct?”
“Could it be possible that he behaved with these boys inappropriately while under the influence?”
The dissenting family member paused and conceded to me, “You have a point.”
While Safechuck declined to testify for Michael, Robson did.
And, despite appearing as a “star” witness for the defense, Robson’s testimony—and that of his mother—were amongst the most disturbing in a trial that made most observers feel “unclean.”
Robson testified that he shared a bed with the King of Pop regularly and Robson’s mother, Joy, said Jackson would “cry like a baby” if she denied any of his requests to have a sleepover with Wade.
Detectives approached one family member during the trial in which Michael was acquitted on all charges.
That family member declined to take the stand for either side.
“I told them,” the family member said. “I will tell you that Michael’s a pedophile because I know that he is. But, take me to jail now because I’ll never say that in court.”
Stacy M. Brown is a journalist and former family friend of the Jacksons. He’s the author of the forthcoming biography, “Aftermath: Michael Jackson’s Dysfunctional Family and the Legacy of the King of Pop.”