leaving neverland early buzz

Leaving Neverland, the documentary investigating Michael Jackson’s years of sexual abuse allegations, premiered at Sundance Friday. The four-hour documentary directed by Dan Reed chronicles the King of Pop’s long-running relationships with two boys, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, during the 1990s. “Now in their 30s, they tell the story of how they were sexually abused by Jackson, and how they came to terms with it years later,” the film’s official synopsis reads.

The documentary premiered amid backlash against the film’s contents and “direct threats” against Reed’s life, causing Park City police to raise security around the Friday screening. However, the protesters reportedly didn’t appear, and Leaving Neverland was shown to a packed audience that gave the documentary and its subjects Safechuck and Robson a standing ovation. Critics who left the screening called it “disturbing,” “exhaustive,” “a devastating, deeply credible piece of filmmaking.”

Read on to see the rest of the Leaving Neverland early buzz.

Allegations against Jackson have plagued his career, and in 2004, the music icon was charged with molesting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo. But after 18 months, Jackson was acquitted of all charges.

Following Jackson’s death in 2009, both Robson and Safechuck brought civil suits against the Jackson Estate, which called Leaving Neverland “another rehash of dated and discredited allegations.” In 2017, a judge threw out the lawsuits, arguing that the Jackson Estate couldn’t be held liable for the singer’s own behavior. Now, 10 years after the pop singer’s death, Leaving Neverland is re-litigating his legacy to devastating effect, according to critics who saw it at the Sundance premiere.

As the critics who attended the screening noted, a team of mental health counselors were provided by the festival for audience members who were upset by the film’s disturbing content. And based on the critics’ reaction, that content was deeply upsetting but profoundly important. The allegations against Jackson dogged him throughout his career, and was essentially a public secret, yet it took a decade after the singer’s death and the phenomenon following the Harvey Weinstein expose for a documentary of this caliber to be released.

As the film begins to make its way beyond the festival circuit, count on it making a major impact on Jackson’s legacy and the music industry at large.

HBO will air Leaving Neverland later this year.

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