Pulling off the Sequin Glove: A Review on Leaving Neverland
Warning: this article contains content that some readers may find distressing
Let’s go back to 1993. This dawned the first investigation into Michael Jackson’s alleged child molestations when a boy named Jordan Chandler was allegedly intoxicated and sexually abused by the star. Since then, inquiries ensued, die-hard fans raged and Jackson vehemently denied the allegations again and again. Twenty-six years on from Chandler case, these events have taken up the headlines again through some shocking new testimonies. HBO’s two-part documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ has peeled back the skin of Jackson’s alleged pedophilia and revealed the flesh of truth on two earlier cases. Told in gut-wrenching detail by child victims, Wade Robson (7 years) and James Safechuck (10 years), this four hour expose will forever change the way you view the King of Pop.
Director and producer Dan Reed must have had all the confidence in the world to release the film following the #MeToo movement and controversial Surviving R Kelly testimonies. With die-hard Jacksonites around the world vowing to never leave his side, the bulk response has been unsurprisingly in rebuttal of their tell-all’s. ‘It’s all a money-making scheme’, they would say.
Though absorbing this film seeing MJ garb-less of his cherry red leather jacket, his sequin glove and his barrage of ‘people’, opens a raw insight into him as merely a human and not a celebrity. The film then seems not so much of a ploy to profit off his name but more of a total conviction of lives turned upside down.
Australian dance prodigy, Wade Robson (now 36), and American, James Safechuck (now 40) have exposed their years of fun, glamour and endless child’s play, describing “dreamlike experiences” like “out of a fairytale”. Naturally, they encountered moments of fear and vulnerability, yet the kindness, generosity and youthful nature of Jackson had seduced them to believe he was misunderstood, lonely and yearning to live out his inner child. And amazingly for them, of all the people in the world – he wanted to be their friend.
In 1984, at five-years-old, Wade won a dance competition that scored him a meet-and-greet with Michael. From then, Jackson had formed a deep connection with the Robson family and would host them trips away with him on tour. It started with excitement, a potential to pave the way to Wade’s cosmic dreams of being a famous dancer. But the subtle alone times between he and his idol grew longer, then he was sleeping in his bed and eventually the parent’s room on tour was placed further and further away.
For James, their meeting was the 1987 Pepsi commercial. Not a huge fan at the time, but James began to grow the same infatuation for Michael that Wade did as he became his ‘friend’ as well. And yet the strangest part is not his fascination with the King of Pop, it’s his mother’s. A complete naivety overran Stephanie (James’ mum) and filled her to the brim with gratitude for how lucky they were to have been chosen. He became part of their family, as he did with the Robson’s. He came for dinner, played games with the boys, called frequently, stayed over at times and slept in the same bed as their sons. But no one batted an eyelid, not Stephanie nor the parents of Wade, because Michael was just a little boy inside – really. Wade explained it best:
“Your standard instincts and judgement seemed to go out the window.”
That was it. The idea of Michael Jackson was hypnotic. It was an aspiration, an inspiration, a faith, a charity, a community, for so many. They weren’t stupid children, or bad parents, they were simply beguiled by the King of Pops allure. Not a thing to be shameful for but disappointed? Cheated? Heartbroken? Absolutely.
Falling for the image of Michael Jackson proved to be what allowed the beast to strike. The film documents grim scenarios alleged by the subjects, from the mock wedding with James who stood by MJ in the jewelry store as they bought the ring for ‘another woman’, the public handholding that became a language of sexual messages when one would scratch the other’s palm, or the vilest… Wade’s memory of being naked on all fours while Michael masturbated behind him noting that he could either look back at Michael or look ahead at a life-size cut out of Peter Pan. These I believe, need no more denunciation as they speak abhorrently for themselves.
“Time heals all wounds, but not this one,” James Safechuck remitted near the close of the film following the news that Michael Jackson had died. His mother remarked, “Thank god, he can not hurt any more children.” And yet, her own son believed the hurt would never ease. Wade too carried the traumas into his future life, fearing incessantly for his own children from the evil he knew could exist. Forever scarred and unfortunately unable to fully heal.
“It’s all a big seduction.”
James said, right before the curtains were drawn. These lasting thoughts leaving an impression so discomforting it were like each viewer received a cattle branding as they watched. Let it be known it is not all the vile alleged acts of Michael Jackson that bears the films barbarity, but the culpability of the parents to not see the bigger picture were the most difficult knots to untangle. But it is this where we cannot understand that makes the film a masterpiece. It leaves you lost, fogged in the mind – similar to those whisked up by the Jackson dream. I would say it is purposefully done this way, but I believe it is not that Dan Reed knew how to meddle with the mind like Michael could, rather I feel it is simply what comes with being absorbed into Jackson’s world. One so non-linear and surreal that to understand it, one must see it as such. For to reach Neverland is to escape reality completely.
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