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Published: Monday, March 04, 2019 @ 9:05 AM
— A controversial new documentary directed by filmmaker Dan Reed is shedding new light on child sex abuse allegations against late pop icon Michael Jackson.
Here's what you need to know about "Leaving Neverland," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and began airing Sunday on HBO:
1. What do Jackson's accusers say he did?
In the film, James Safechuck, now 40, and Wade Robson, 36, share graphic details of alleged sexual abuse and grooming by Jackson, whom they met when they were children, in the 1980s and early '90s.
Safechuck claims that Jackson often gave him jewelry, including a wedding ring.
"I was really into jewelry, and he would reward me with jewelry for doing sexual acts for him," said Safechuck, who added that the pair had a "mock wedding ceremony."
Safechuck also said Jackson would make him participate in "drills" where "he would pretend like somebody was coming in and you had to get dressed as fast as possible without making noise."
Robson said Jackson sexually abused him and told him that is "how we show love." The pop star allegedly swore him to secrecy, saying the two would "never be able to see each other again" if anyone discovered their relationship, Robson claimed.
Robson said Jackson eventually began to ignore him in favor of "Home Alone" star Macaulay Culkin.
"There was jealousy from me – hurt, confusion," Robson said.
2. Jackson's family has slammed the claims.
"We can't just stand by while this public lynching goes on, and the vulture tweeters and others who never met Michael go after him," his family said in a statement last month, according to Rolling Stone. "Michael is not here to defend himself; otherwise, these allegations would not have been made."
They also called Safechuck and Robson, who previously denied they were sexually abused by Jackson, as "opportunists."
"Michael Jackson was and always will be 100 percent innocent of these false allegations," the family said.
3. Jackson's estate is suing HBO and Time Warner for "damages potentially exceeding $100 million." The lawsuit, filed last month in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims that HBO is violating a "non-disparagement clause" in a 1992 agreement that allowed the network to broadcast a concert from Jackson's "Dangerous" tour, The Associated Press reported.
"HBO profited off the Dangerous World Tour by airing a concert from the tour and promoting Michael Jackson’s talents," the lawsuit says. "Now, HBO is profiting off the Dangerous World Tour by airing a 'documentary' that falsely claims Michael Jackson was abusing children on the same tour. It is hard to imagine a more direct violation of the non-disparagement clause."
The lawsuit also points out that Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005.
"Nothing and no one can rewrite the facts which show that Michael Jackson is indeed innocent of the charges being levied at him by HBO in its 'documentary' 'Leaving Neverland,'" the lawsuit says. "No one-sided 'documentary' can substitute for a real documentary, or for a trial where both sides are heard, competent evidence is presented, and witnesses are cross-examined."
HBO said last month that it would still be airing the documentary "despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film."
"This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves," the network said, according to the AP.
4. The film has sparked debates on social media. As the first part of the documentary aired Sunday night, viewers flocked to Twitter to share their views with the trending hashtag #LeavingNeverland. Here's a sampling of what they had to say:
#LeavingNeverland People think Michael Jackson fans defend him blindly, that isn’t the case at all. We care & admire the man enough to do research and understand that this man is innocent of all the terrible things he’s accused of. Victim of extortion all his life. #MJInnoccent— Ricky Nardella (@RickyDelz) March 4, 2019
It's disgusting the amount of people that are still on Michael's side. MJ was clearly dealing with some mental health issues but that doesn't excuse his actions. He took advantage of several CHILDREN. Ignorance must truly be bliss. #LeavingNeverland— Christina Davis (@ssparkleshimmer) March 4, 2019
HBO should be ashamed to air such a one sided and totally biased portrait. Too much of the story don't add up and after some quick research about the families this is laughable... Jackson estate better sue HBO if possible #LeavingNeverland— Felix Rodriguez (@FelixPRodriguez) March 4, 2019
After Monday's finale, an Oprah Winfrey-hosted special called "Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland" will air at 10 p.m. EST.