January 28, 2019
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The family of Michael Jackson on Monday described reaction to a new documentary about alleged child sex abuse by the late singer as a “public lynching” and said he was “100 percent innocent” of such accusations.
The statement followed the premiere at the Sundance film festival on Friday of “Leaving Neverland,” in which two men, now in their 30s, say they were befriended by the “Thriller” singer and sexually abused by him starting from when they were 7 and 10 years old.
The documentary received a standing ovation at Sundance on Friday, Variety and other entertainment media reported. It will be shown on cable channel HBO and Britain’s Channel 4 television network this spring.
Jackson, who died in 2009, was acquitted at a 2005 criminal trial in California on charges of molesting a different, 13-year-old boy, at his Neverland ranch. The singer is survived by his mother Katherine and nine siblings, four of whom were members of pop group “The Jackson 5.”
Referring to Jackson as “our brother and son,” Monday’s statement said the family was “furious that the media, who without a shred of proof or single piece of physical evidence, chose to believe the word of two admitted liars over the word of hundreds of families and friends around the world who spent time with Michael, many at Neverland, and experienced his legendary kindness and global generosity.”
“We can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on,” the statement added.
“Leaving Neverland” features on camera interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who describe their relationships with Jackson in graphic detail and said that as young boys they loved the singer.
Variety in its review called the four-hour documentary “devastating.” Rolling Stone said it left the audience at the Sundance festival in Utah “completely shellshocked.”
Both Robson and Safechuck filed lawsuits against the Jackson estate alleging sexual misconduct after the singer’s death and both cases were dismissed. Robson had testified at Jackson’s 2005 trial in the singer’s defense.
The Michael Jackson estate has also criticized “Leaving Neverland,” releasing a statement that called it “blatantly one-sided” and lacking independent voices.
Director Dan Reed has said he had no question about the validity of the stories of the two men.
“If there’s anything we’ve learned during this time in our history, it’s that sexual abuse is complicated, and survivors’ voices need to be listened to,” he said in a statement earlier this month.
Jackson’s death at age 50 of an overdose of an anesthetic he used as a sleep aid triggered a surge in record sales.
According to an annual Forbes survey, Jackson has been the top earning dead celebrity for the past six years with ventures that include television specials, record sales, and a Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Frances Kerry)