After debuting at last month’s Sundance Film Festival, Dan Reed’s controversial Michael Jackson documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” has set its domestic broadcast debut date. HBO will premiere the two-part documentary series over the course of two nights, each broken into two-hour sections: the first part will air on Sunday, March 3 at 8PM, followed by the second part on Monday, March 4 at 8PM. The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand, and partners’ streaming platforms.
The project centers on “two men who recount their experiences of being sexually abused by Michael Jackson.” After the project was added to the festival lineup, the Estate of Michael Jackson released a statement that read, in part, “This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson. … This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Reed’s project focuses on the stories of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, long-time fans of Jackson’s whose own career aspirations brought them into the singer’s orbit, unspooling strikingly parallel stories of childhood abuse that have continued to impact their adult lives. Both Robson and Safechuck previously advocated on Jackson’s behalf — as young boys, they were both interviewed during a 1993 case in which Jackson’s first accuser, Jordan Chandler, went public with allegations of abuse; later, Robson very publicly testified during a 2005 trial involving yet another accuser — and have only in the last six years come forward with their own accusations.
After the doc’s Sundance premiere, both Robson and Safechuck were on hand for a post-screening Q&A to talk about why they wanted to participate in the project and the impact Jackson’s alleged crimes had on their lives. “This was really just trying to tell the story and shine light on it,” Safechuck said. “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.”
In his Sundance review, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote that the film “is ultimately able to transcend its basic functionality. Not because of how well it conveys these particular accounts, but rather because of how comprehensively it corroborates so many others like them. The denial, the shame, the way that young minds are able to rationalize even the most insidious trauma until it explodes like a time bomb when they’re adults. … ‘Leaving Neverland’ is hardly great cinema, but it’s a crucial document for a culture that still can’t see itself clearly in Michael Jackson’s shadow.”
Post-premiere, the estate again responded to the project, calling the explosive documentary “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death.”