Dethroning the King of Pop


Ula Pranevicius

“I think it is very important that the accusations were revived, especially considering the time we live in right now. With present day artists such as R. Kelly going through similar situations, their is a much more open and accepting environment for documentaries such as this one,” said Matthew Nielsen ’20.

Just beat it! Michael Jackson’s legacy might do just that, because while he has remained an icon years after his death in 2009, many are starting to question just how good of a person he was during his lifetime.

On March 3rd, 2019, the documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ was released on HBO, informing the world of Michael Jackson’s complicated history with sexual assault accusations through a focus on two families directly affected by Jackson’s legacy. The film is centered on the separate accounts of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom claim that Jackson sexually abused them starting in their childhood and on throughout their adolescence.

To fully understand all the emotions that are evoked by this film, one must go back to the beginning of these accusations in August, 1993. While Jackson was on tour for the ‘Dangerous’ album, the Los Angeles Police Department looked into an accusation that he had molested a thirteen-year-old boy, but found no incriminating evidence at any of Jackson’s estates. The family of the young boy sued Jackson, causing many headlines on the subject to surface in addition to interviews of other young children whom he was close to. One of those children was Wade Robson, who told CNN about his slumber parties with Jackson, which furthered a news frenzy. After being strip searched by the police in December of 1993 to compare his actual physical description to the one his accuser had described, and finding a few discrepancies in description of the moles, Jackson publicly stated that he was not guilty, with James Safechuck testifying on Jackson’s behalf. In January of 1994, Jackson settled the case for $23 million.

In 2003 after the documentary ‘Living With Michael Jackson’ was released, featuring Jackson openly talking about his sleepovers with children, a criminal investigation on Jackson was reopened. In November of the same year, the police searched his infamous Neverland estate but found no evidence, and after being released on a $3 million bond, Jackson was determined to prove himself as innocent.

The actual trial started on February 28th, 2005 in Santa Barbara, California. 

In Jackson’s defense, Wade Robson claimed that he had never been sexually assaulted by Jackson, despite what other witnesses had said about him. Child actor Macaulay Culkin also testified for Jackson’s innocence, claiming that in all the time he had known him and through all the sleepovers they had nothing abusive had ever happened. Jackson was found innocent on all of his charges in 2005, causing fans around the world to rejoice.

Surprisingly, even throughout all these trials, the public’s opinion of Jackson did not drastically change. Matthew Nielsen ’20 said, “While many people may have heard of the accusations before, they did not have the effect that one would expect when something of this magnitude comes out against such a public, well-liked figure.”

Four years after the infamous trial, Jackson passed away at fifty years old. 

This takes us to the release of ‘Leaving Neverland,’ which premiered at Sundance in January as a four hour release. It was released privately at the festival, then to the public through HBO, and shook up the internet, creating a dialogue not only concerning the separation of art and the artist, but also what its implications are for Michael Jackson’s legacy.

Many feel as if this is the perfect opportunity for society to question what kinds of actions they tolerate from public figures. Sona Marukyan ’20 said, “Just because Jackson was found innocent by a court does not mean that he is actually innocent. And while there could not be any criminal charges after he was found innocent, this documentary could have the same effect of revealing Michael Jackson to the public.”

But the acceptance of this film has been very mixed, with a large portion of the audience finding fault with the limited number of perspectives. Many have compared it to the R. Kelly documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly,’ but claim that ‘Leaving Neverland’ lacks the same sense of validity. This perspective has only been validated by the inconsistencies found in the documentary, such as Safechuck’s claims of being abused in the Neverland train station from 1988 to 1992, when in reality the station was only built in 1993.

Due to these claims, Jackson’s controversial past has been widely discussed, but the direction of the progress made is very unclear. We are left with many different accounts of the situation, and it is up to us as a society on how we would like to proceed, as this and future exposés like it will set the precedent for how sexual accusations are dealt with in the future.

Just because Jackson was found innocent by a court does not mean that he is actually innocent. And while there could not be any criminal charges after he was found innocent, this documentary could have the same effect of revealing Michael Jackson to the public,” said Sona Marukyan ’20.