Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Leaving Neverland *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th March, 2019

Leaving-Neverland-DocumentaryThis week Channel4 TV broadcast Dan Reed’s lengthy two-part documentary Leaving Neverland, focusing on the experiences of two men who were at different times the pop singer Michael Jackson’s little favourites. Only many years later were they able to face up to the fact that Jackson had abused them sexually from the age of seven. Indeed, for years both strongly denied it, not least to their families, when Jackson was prosecuted (unsuccessfully) for alleged impropriety with other young boys. Even their wives did not know until depression, panic attacks and other symptoms of suppressed child sexual abuse (CSA) forced them to confront their past. The revelations were particularly hard to bear for the two men’s mothers, who inevitably blamed themselves for not protecting their young sons more. And indeed, watching this beautifully paced, poignant film one is tempted to ask “how on earth can they not have objected to their child sharing a grown man’s bed, or realised that this was far from innocent?” Two factors seem to have played an important role in the women’s blindness: Michael Jackson’s fame as a global super-star and his apparent childlike sweetness and generosity.

Both of the two men in the documentary, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, were dazzled by the attention they received over a period of years, before the singer’s affections moved elsewhere, and yes, they loved him, even if they did not understand what he was doing to them or making them do. Unsurprisingly, some of Jackson’s family have accused Robson and Safechuck of fabrication for financial gain, pointing out that Robson had even testified in court as a teenager that Jackson did not molest him. But given that the victims of CSA often blame themselves and want to hide what has happened that isn’t unusual. Indeed, as I know from my own experience, as set out in my childhood memoir Eccles Cakes*, the secret can lay buried within one for decades, be even denied, pushed to the furthest recesses of one’s memory, until eventually it bursts out in anguish, requiring extensive therapy to achieve some sort of closure. Wade Robson and James Safechuck will doubtless receive a lot of flack for coming out about what happened to them when they were little boys, but they should be praised for their courage. And in this magnificent documentary Dan Reed has done them proud.

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