‘Leaving Neverland’ Director Hopes Michael Jackson Biopic Will Cover Child Sexual Abuse Claims

Thirteen years after the sudden death of one of the world’s biggest musical icons, a Michael Jackson biopic is finally moving forward, with Lionsgate announcing this week that it had picked up the project’s worldwide distribution rights.

It’s a major land for the studio, as Michael already stands to be a likely contender for awards, considering it’s helmed by an Oscar-worthy team in Bohemian Rhapsody producer Graham King and Gladiator screenwriter John Logan.

But most importantly, and perhaps concerningly, is that Jackson’s family has enthusiastically endorsed the biopic, and two co-executors of the late singer’s estate will serve as producers.

With the Jackson family and his estate’s sizable involvement in the project, it begs the question of whether the film will fairly examine the allegations of child sexual abuse that were first leveled against Jackson in the 1990s, when Los Angeles police opened an investigation into the pop star for allegedly molesting four young boys (he was also sued by the family of a 13-year-old boy).

(Members of the Jackson family and his estate have vehemently denied all allegations of abuse, and Jackson himself was never prosecuted for such claims and was acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005.)

It’s a pivotal aspect of Jackson’s life and legacy, and one that Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed told The Daily Beast that he believes should be addressed if the project hopes to have any integrity.

In Reed’s compelling and gripping HBO two-part documentary, the audiences hear heart-wrenching claims from two of Jackson’s main accusers, noted pop choreographer Wade Robson and former child actor James Safechuck, who allege they were seven and ten years old, respectively, when they first were sexually abused by Jackson.

The documentary is bolstered by heaps of personal photographs, home videos, and letters from Jackson to the boys and their families, as both Robson and Safechuck allege how the abuse continued for years, and now even as adults, they are still working through the trauma they allegedly endured.

“None of Jackson’s family, legal teams or supporters has ever provided a credible challenge to the allegations made in Leaving Neverland; or even to the unchallenged fact that Jackson, who was an addict, pursued little boys as young as seven in order to spend nights alone with them in his bed,” Reed said in a statement.

“My hope is that any biopic about MJ will have the integrity to examine, at the very least, MJ’s huge appetite for nocturnal intimacy with very young children.”

Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed

Jerod Harris/Getty

The question of whether the biopic will give an unbiased look at Jackson’s well-documented and strangely close relationships with young boys is a valid concern. Already with the Lionsgate distribution announcement, which was broken by Deadline, conspicuously absent from the release was any direct mention of the allegations that have threatened to upend Jackson’s revered legacy.

Instead, the release said the project would consist of an “in-depth portrayal of a complicated man” with “informed insight into the entertainer’s artistic process and personal life.”

It also featured a glowing statement from Jackson’s mother Katherine, who said it was the family’s honor “to have our life story come alive on the big screen,” remarking how Jackson had loved “the magic of cinema” since he was a child.

Even a head honcho at Lionsgate sang the project’s praises while referencing the blessing from his family. “I first met the Jackson family in 1981 and I’m humbled to bring their legacy to the big screen,” Lionsgate Group Chair Joe Drake said. “Sitting at Dodger Stadium watching the Victory Tour, I could never have imagined that nearly 38 years later I would get the privilege to be a part of this film.” (Lionsgate has not responded to a request for comment.)

It bears mention that the Jackson family also backed the new Broadway production MJ The Musical, with the playbill noting it was produced “by special arrangement with the Michael Jackson estate.” The allegations of child abuse were largely skipped over in the musical—the lone reference was a quick line lumped in with other scandals that the press was hounding Jackson over.

“What do you have to say about the recent allegations,” a reporter character asks Jackson during the show, as others clamor for answers about his plastic surgery, the pressures of fame, and Jackson’s own claims that his father Joe Jackson was abusive during his childhood.

And when a Variety reporter tried to question the production’s cast members about Jackson’s complicated legacy, the actors danced around the subject until the journalist was removed from the red carpet for asking “difficult questions.”


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