The controversial new four-hour documentary detailing allegations of prolonged sexual abuse at the hands of singer Michael Jackson has left viewers ‘shellshocked’ at the Sundance Film Festival.
Leaving Neverland, directed by British BAFTA winner Dan Reed, was premiered at the weekend and introduced by the festival director John Cooper, who informed that audience that there would be mental health professionals on hand in the lobby during the film’s interval.
Critics who saw the film described feeling ‘sick to the stomach’ during particularly sexually explicit moments.
Feel sick to my stomach after watching Part 1 of #LeavingNeverland doc. Michael Jackson witnesses/sex abuse victims coming off very credible. It’s so sexually explicit that counselors are in the lobby. #SundanceFilmFestival2019
— Mara Reinstein (@MaraReinstein) January 25, 2019
JFC what do you even say at the midway point of #LEAVINGNEVERLAND which has already been two hours of devastation and will only get worse.
— Kate Erbland (@katerbland) January 25, 2019
At the midpoint of LEAVING NEVERLAND, audience seems slightly shellshocked. There are not enough Silkwood showers in the world to get rid of the feeling I have watching this. #Sundance19
— David Fear (@davidlfear) January 25, 2019
— Nicole Sperling (@nicsperling) January 25, 2019
Two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, are the subjects of the film, and allege that Jackson abused them when they were aged seven and 10.
The Jackson estate has denounced the film as a ‘lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson’.
Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson tweeted:
My family and I have known Wade and his family since he came to America. Don’t tell me a 4 hour one sided hit job that you watched is more reputable than people who actually knew him and saw his interactions. This is all about money and the desperate need to be relevant again.
— Taj Jackson (@tajjackson3) January 26, 2019
However, Safechuck and Robson, who appeared for a Q&A after the screening, said that were not paid for their involvement.
A handful of Jackson supporters protested outside the screening theatre, while Reed has reportedly received threats.
Security around the Egyptian Theater in Park City, Utah, where the screening took place, was beefed up by local law enforcement, police captain Phil Kirk telling Deadline: “Tensions are higher for this movie than anything I’ve ever seen at Sundance before.”
Defenders of Jackson have been quick to point out that Robson testified under oath in defence of Jackson during a 2005 trial involving another accuser who alleged Jackson abused him.
Robson said during the Q&A session: “I understand that it’s really hard for them to believe because, in a way, not that long ago, I was in the same position they were in.
“Even though it happened to me, I still couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing up until six years ago. So I understand. We can only accept and understand something when we’re ready, and maybe we’ll never be ready. Maybe we will. So that’s their journey.”
Safechuck added: “This was really just trying to tell the story and shine light on it. The same way, knowing that Wade went through it, if we can give other people that same connection and comfort that we’ve gone through something like this, that’s the point.”
The film will premiere on HBO later this year.