The director of an explosive new documentary about sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson is defending the film amid criticism it is one-sided.set to air on HBO this weekend, focuses on two men who claim the pop icon molested them throughout their adolescence, allegations the Jackson family repeatedly denied.
Wade Robson met Jackson after winning a dance contest in his native Australia when he was five years old. James Safechuck shot a Pepsi commercial with the singer right before his ninth birthday. The men said Jackson warned them they had to keep the abuse a secret and allegedly pressured them to defend him in his sex abuse cases.
The Jackson family has denounced Robson and Safechuck as "opportunists" and "admitted liars." His estate also sued HBO last week, calling the documentary a "one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself." The documentary did not seek comment from the Jackson family or estate.
Addressing criticism for not including the family's point of view, director Dan Reed said, "This isn't a film 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 on "CBS This Morning" Tuesday. "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."
Reed said that because the allegations are directed against Jackson himself, the documentary included some of the things he said while he was alive as well as previous statements from his lawyers.
"What was important for me was to have eyewitnesses or people who could add something to the story. I don't know that the Jackson family has any direct knowledge of what happened to Wade and James. I don't believe they do. If they do, then they should come forward," Reed said. "We know that the family and the estate[s] and Jackson during his lifetime and his lawyers all deny that any sexual abuse took place and those views are strongly represented in the film. We give those views a lot of time in the film on screen and we have people casting doubt on Wade's change of heart."
In court and in TV interviews, Robson repeatedly denied being molested by Jackson. But in 2013, after suffering several nervous breakdowns, Robson decided to tell what he claims is the real story in a lawsuit against the Jackson estate. Safechuck followed him a year later, though, according to reports, he had also previously denied the allegations. Both cases were thrown out because of the statute of limitations. The men are now appealing.
Asked why they changed their stories after so many years, Reed said people have to first understand the complicated bond that was forged between Jackson and his accusers.
"What people find it difficult to understand – and what I've always making this film found it sort of difficult to understand and very shocking – is the deep attachment formed between the abuser and the abused with this kind of grooming pedophile activity. So both Wade and James were in love with Michael, even after the sexual activity stopped. They continued loving him and he was a close friend, particularly to Wade for many, many years," Reed said.
Both Robson and Safechuck say they believed that Jackson was in love with them, too.
The documentary includes many disturbing details and graphic accounts of Safechuck's and Robson's alleged encounters with Jackson, who was acquitted in 2005 of molesting a 13-year-old boy. Reed said part of vetting those details included a "deep dive" into the child sexual abuse allegations against Jackson in 1993 and in 2003.
"[I] read a lot of the witness statements there and spoke to a lot of the investigators and I didn't find anything that contradicted or cast any doubt whatsoever on Wade and James's accounts," Reed said.
Including those graphic details, Reed explained, was something he felt was necessary for people to understand the gravity of Jackson's alleged behavior.
"I think for many years Jackson got away with this image of being a bit of a child himself and being very affectionate with children and I wanted to make sure that people understood this wasn't over-enthusiastic kissing or cuddling. This was sex. This was the kind of sex adults have, but he was having it with a little child," Reed said.
Reed's work as a documentarian has primarily focused on crime and terrorism. He said he had no views about Michael Jackson prior to starting work on "Leaving Neverland."
"I certainly didn't want to stake any reputation on a story that didn't have a strong factual basis or that wasn't true. So I did look, you know, throughout the two years of making the film, I looked for anything that could cast doubt or undermine Wade and James' story. I found nothing at all. I found their stories to be very very consistent. I found their families' stories to be consistent with what they had told me."
Robson and Safechuck were not paid for their participating in the film and have "no future, past or present interest" in it, according to Reed, who sought out the two men after "stumbling across" the fact that they were suing the Jackson estate.
"I was sitting down with a Channel 4 executive in the UK for breakfast one day and we said what are the big stories out there that people kind of think they know but maybe don't really know and had never sort of been conclusively examined and Michael Jackson was one of those. I had someone do some research for three weeks in a footnote in a forum was this reference to Wade and James litigating against the Michael Jackson estate. And that's how I stumbled across this story and here we are now," he said.
Tune in to "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday for the Jackson family's first on-camera reaction to the documentary and on Thursday for an exclusive interview with accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck.