“Leaving Neverland”: Michael Jackson doc too one-sided for many


For many people, “The King of Pop” died June 25, 2009. Michael Jackson was a child prodigy singing famously with his brothers to form the Jackson 5 while he was in his formative years. With a precocious attitude and fluid tenor voice, Jackson became pop music royalty while in grade school.

But the Jackson that fans and critics are faced with in “Leaving Neverland” is far removed from the fresh-faced boy that made some people believe in pop music again.

Instead, what the film’s creators and key participants show viewers is that the King of Pop manipulated and abused. And, he worked his way into a family for the sole purpose of abusing one of the children.

But because Jackson never speaks for himself in the film (he cannot, as he is deceased), there is a little bit of the feeling that the participants can say whatever they want as there is no rebuttal. The facts according to the accusers and their relatives buildup. Sometimes, what feels like tangential information gets in the way of the story viewers have tuned in for.

“Leaving Neverland”: criticism and aftermath

What the makers of “Leaving Neverland” attempt to do is create a compelling narrative so that audiences can believe how long-term abuse happened. However, as accuser Wade Robson and his family members mom, sister, brother and grandmother begin to talk, it seems as though there are lapses in judgement and logic. No matter how famous Jackson was, he was still a stranger. Yet, he was allowed to make decisions about what kind of classes Robson would take in school, he was allowed to spend what some would call an inordinate amount of time with young Wade while his family shopped or otherwise enjoyed the good life. Wade was constantly allowed to spend the night with Jackson, a stranger. Some might wonder when people stop being star struck enough to set boundaries.

Particularly problematic was when Robson’s mother described the phone call the family received after Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley. Jackson reportedly explained he wouldn’t be coming around so much because of his new marital status. Robson’s mother claims to have announced to the family, “We’ve been dumped.”

The emotional quality of the statement, along with the language that sounds like what a person would use to describe the end of a courtship, is off-putting. It would seem that if Jackson was such a problem, his spending less time with Robson would be a good thing.

Without a voiceover narrator, audiences are left to fit everything together on their own. If, for nothing else, a voiceover narrator was needed to break up the monotony of voices.

As was to be expected, there are people who are willing to speak out against the accusers. Aaron Carter, who was a young performer at the time Robson and the other featured accuser, James Safechuck, has come to Jackson’s defense on TMZ.

Further, the accusers own words and actions make them difficult to believe. The two denied any abuse for years. Including the 2005 criminal case in which Robson testified for Jackson.

Speaking up about abuse is not a simple thing, and neither is human psychology, so Robson’s and Safechuck’s reluctance to talk in an era that often takes a while to warm to survivors’ stories is not too difficult to believe.

Taking an unpopular stand about an extremely popular person requires bravery and a thick skin. Another famous critic of the accusers is Wendy Williams. The talk show maven is not shy about controversy. In Vibe magazine, according to inquisitr.com, Williams describes the film as a “money grab.” Further she has stated that “she doesn’t believe any of the claims” put forth in the film.

The fallout in regard to Jackson’s falling reputation can be seen in falling record sales. Yet, the late singer continues to rise in iTunes sales for certain albums. In addition, the makers of  “The Simpsons” are pulling the episode featuring the singer. Some radio stations have also begun pulling Jackson’s tunes.

Regardless of the form the fallout takes, it comes too late to actually injure Jackson. While the singer’s estate can still sue relevant parties for damages, Jackson himself is unscathed.

Because of the relatively limited ramifications, viewers of “Leaving Neverland” might wonder what happens now? And, perhaps, what did the filmmakers and participants want from the film?

While the film’s debut occurred weeks ago, the responses (positive and negative) will continue to be registered. Fans will pick their sides and the rest is pop music history.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.