A documentary on Michael Jackson that debuted Sunday night on HBO features accusations from two men who claim the late pop icon sexually assaulted them when they were children.
"Leaving Neverland" tells the stories of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who allege the legendary singer sexually abused them separately. The first part of the four-hour documentary aired Sunday night. Part two aired Monday night. All four hours are available for streaming on HBO Now and HBO Go.
In the documentary, Safechuck, now 37, said he first met Jackson while filming a Pepsi commercial around the time of his 9th birthday. Robson, now 41, said he met the singer after winning a dance contest when he was 5 years old. The men allege Jackson sexually abused them at his Neverland ranch after developing friendships with each.
On Tuesday, director Dan Reed told "CBS This Morning" the film is not "about Michael Jackson."
"It's a film about Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two little boys to whom this dreadful thing happened long ago. It's the story of their coming to terms with that over two decades and the story of their families," Reed said. "As far as including other eyewitnesses to that, there was no one else in the room, I don't believe, when Wade was being molested by Michael or when James was having sex with Michael."
The filmmakers did not seek comment from the Jackson family nor his estate, which is now suing HBO for $100 million, claiming HBO is in breach of contract for disparaging Jackson in the film. The network has said it will move forward with airing "Leaving Neverland" as planned.
Michael Jackson died in 2009, leavingto defend him and his legacy as new allegations thrust the late singer and his family back into the spotlight.
New allegations echo previous claims
Prior to his death, Jackson faced allegations of child molestation in 1993 and 2003. In 1995, Jackson reached a $23 million settlement with the family of Jordan Chandler, and was acquitted by a California jury on charges of alleged abuse of a 13-year-old boy in 2005. He denied ever acting inappropriately with children throughout his life.
In their first television interview prior to the airing of "Leaving Neverland,"how their alleged abuse with Jackson began. Both detailed the methods Jackson allegedly used when they visited his Neverland ranch in California as children.
"Within either the first or second night of Michael and I being alone at Neverland, the night started changing. One of the ways I remember it starting is, you know, Michael just sort of starting to touch my legs and touch my crotch over my pants ... It progressed to him performing oral sex on me, him showing me how to perform oral sex on him," Robson said.
Safechuck, who nodded his head as Robson spoke, said his alleged abuse began similarly.
"He introduced me to masturbation ... he said I taught him how to French kiss ... and then it moves onto oral sex," Safechuck said.
When Chandler and his family came forward alleging abuse in 1993, both Robson and Safechuck denied they had been molested. In 2005, when Jackson faced criminal charges, Robson defended Jackson, taking the stand and offering testimony in the singer's defense.
"The training — Michael's training of me to testify began the first night that he started abusing me," Robson said. "He started telling me that if anybody else ever finds out, we'll both go to jail, both of our lives would be over."
Both men eventually came forward with their own stories of Jackson's alleged abuse, filing individual lawsuits against his estate several years after his death. Those suits were dismissed for having been filed too late. Robson and Safechuck are both appealing those dismissals.
Jackson family members denounce "Leaving Neverland"
Members of the Jackson family have publicly denounced "Leaving Neverland," arguing that not only are the allegations detailed in the documentary false, but that filmmakers never reached out to the family for comment or gave them a chance to argue for Jackson's innocence. Michael Jackson's brothers Jackie, Tito, Marlon and nephew Taj sat down with "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King on Wednesday to dispute the allegations raised in the film.
"I know my brother," Jackie Jackson said. "He's my little brother. I know my brother. He's not like that."
Members of the Jackson family have denounced Safechuck and Robson as "opportunists" and "admitted liars." In its lawsuit against HBO, the Jackson estate called the documentary a "one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself."
Their defense has returned the Jackson family back into the public sphere. From the late 1960s to the late 1980s, The Jackson 5 musical group sang some of the most famous songs in pop, in turn becoming a household name. Brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Michael and Marlon helped popularize Detroit's "Motown" music genre and earned an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
By the early 1980s Michael Jackson established himself as a superstar singer separate from the family group. His 1982 album "Thriller" is the second best-selling album of all time, and he was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
What critics are saying
The critical reaction to "Leaving Neverland" has been overwhelmingly positive, with the documentary garnering a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96 percent. NPR called the documentary "a tribute to the power of personal testimony," and The New Yorker said it is a "grueling and devastating film that asks viewers to reconfigure how they think about both Jackson and potential victims of rape."
Others have found the documentary to be a major threat to Jackson's legacy. "'Leaving Neverland' is a bombshell of a film that could damage the legacy of Jackson in ways no print reports or other TV specials have done before now," Julie Hinds of The Detroit Free Press wrote. Hank Stuever of The Washington Post said the film is "devastating and credible" and "will turn you off Michael Jackson for good."
Viewers will have the chance to judge for themselves when the first part of the documentary airs Sunday night.