The documentary features extensive interviews with two men who accuse the singer of molesting them as boys, Wade Robson and James Safechuck. The details unearthed in the four-hour-long film have left viewers shocked, while others have vehemently defended Jackson.
Here’s everything that’s happened since the film premiered in January in chronological order.
Jackson’s estate issue a public statement
Before Leaving Neverland premiered at Sundance, the Jackson estate issues a statement calling the documentary a “lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson”. Following the premiere, another statement is released, calling the film a “public lynching”.
Director Dan Reed responds, receives abuse from fans
Dan Reed, who directed the film and conducted the interviews, responds by saying the estate made “no substantial criticism of the film” and ”obviously haven’t seen it”. Reed later speaks about the abuse fans of the singer had sent him.
“I’m getting horrible email messages from Michael Jackson fans,” Reed tells Rolling Stone. “Several thousand emails in the past three weeks. Absolutely as disgusting as you could possibly invent. And why do people react that way? Why when two men have come forward saying they were sexually abused as a child, why do we want to shame them? Why do we want to shut them down? Why do we want to silence them? Why do we want to threaten them? I don’t understand.”
Unearthed interview with Jackson
An interview with Jackson, where an investigator questions him about the allegations, is unearthed. In the video, Jackson denies all allegations against him and compares himself to Jesus: “Jesus said to love the children and be like children; be youthful; be innocent, be pure and honourable.
“He was talking to his apostles and they were fighting over who was the greatest among themselves and he said, ‘Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest among me.’ He always surrounded himself with children, and that’s how I was raised, to be like that and imitate that.”
Jackson’s estate claims the film breaks broadcasting regulations
Jackson’s estate claimed Leaving Neverland breaks Channel 4’s broadcasting standards. They cite a section of the channel’s guidelines, which are publicly available, that states that if a show makes “significant allegations” then “those concerned should be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond”.
“I think we can all agree that the false allegations being made in your ‘documentary’ are ‘significant allegations’,” the letter states, adding that “it is hard to imagine more significant accusations that can possibly be made against anyone”.
Channel 4 – who co-produced the documentary with US network HBO – decide to go ahead with the broadcast.
Jackson’s estate sue HBO for $100 million
The Jackson estate decides to sue HBO over the documentary, claiming that both Safechuck and Robson are motivated by money. The lawsuit alleges that both men, who previously testified on behalf of Jackson, had changed their stories as they were running out of money.
The lawsuit continues: “As you must know, contrary to all norms of documentary filmmaking, the Estate was never contacted by the supposed ‘documentarian’, Dan Reed (or anyone else associated with the programme) to provide the Estate’s view on, and responses to, the absolutely false claims that are the subject matter of the programme.
“Likewise, no one else who might offer evidence to contradict the programme’s premise was consulted either, as Dan Reed has publicly admitted.”
HBO respond by saying they were still going to air the documentary.
Dan Reed continues to defend the documentary
Speaking to The Independent, Reed defends the documentary, saying he approached the project “with all the scepticism and rigour that I would approach a story about a terrorist attack”.
“When children are sexually abused they can form a deep attachment to the abuser,” he says, explaining why Robson and Safechuck might previously have defended Jackson against accusations of abuse. “They often don’t tell the parents, and the abuse often only comes to light when the victims are in their thirties and have their own families.”
Jackson’s music dropped by radio stations
The first reports of radio stations dropping Jackson’s music emerge. First, Variety claims BBC Radio 2 will no longer play his music, although these reports are denied by the broadcaster. Later, New Zealand radio stations remove Jackson’s work from their playlists, as do four major stations in Canada.
Jackson’s estate post concert film to YouTube
During Leaving Neverland‘s broadcast on HBO, the Jackson estate uploads the singer’s Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour concert film to YouTube. “Don’t miss the magic from the King of Pop himself! Immerse yourself in Michael Jackson,” Jackson’s official Twitter account wrote alongside a link to the film.
Oprah interviews Safechuck and Robson
A taped interview of Oprah Winfrey with the two accusers airs directing after Leaving Neverland‘s broadcast in the US. “I know people all over the world are going to be in an uproar and debating whether or not Michael Jackson did these things and whether these two men are lying or not lying,” she says.
“But for me, this moment transcends Michael Jackson. It is much bigger than any one person. This is a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption, it’s like a scourge on humanity…. if it gets you, our audience, to see how it happens, then some good would have come of it.”
Robson said that, as a child, he had “no understanding that what Michael did to me sexually was abuse. I had no concept of it being that.” He adds: “From night one of the abuse, of the sexual stuff that Michael did to me, he told me it was love. He told me that he loved me and God brought us together… anything Michael would say to me was gospel.”
UK critics react to Leaving Neverland
Following the documentary’s broadcast in the UK, press reviews are posted. The Independent‘s critic concludes: “Jackson told us he was bad; he was evil.” Meanwhile, Lucy Mangan from The Guardian hails the film as “an astonishing piece of work”. The i’s Sarah Carson predicts the film will be remembered as “the final nail in Jackson’s coffin rather than a landmark piece of filmmaking”.
The Simpsons‘ Jackson episode dropped from circulation
Executive producer James L. Brooks, creator Matt Groening and showrunner Al Jean decide to pull the episode “Stark Raving Dad” – which features Jackson voicing the character Leon Kompowsky – from streaming platforms, networks re-running the show, and forthcoming physical copies, including box sets.
“It feels clearly the only choice to make,” Brooks said. “The guys I work with — where we spend our lives arguing over jokes — were of one mind on this.”
Corey Feldman backtracks on defence
Corey Feldman, who spent time at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch as a child, had defended the singer following the broadcast of Leaving Neverland. However, days later, the actor retracts the comments during an interview on CNN.
“It comes to a point where as an advocate for victims, as an advocate for changing the statutes of limitations to make sure that victims’ voices are heard, it becomes impossible for me to remain virtuous and not at least consider what’s being said and not listen to what the victims are saying — this is very important,” he says.
“We must give them their voice. We must allow them to speak. And therefore, we also must consider all sides of this, even as uncomfortable as that may be.”
Feldman continues to assert that nothing “inappropriate” happened between him and Jackson.
“Michael Jackson innocent” posters appear in London
Fans of Michael Jackson protest the documentary, claiming the singer is innocent. An advert on the side of a bus reads: “Fact don’t lie. People do.” It also features the address of the website MJInnocent.com, which links to a crowdfunding page for the bus adverts. Jackson fans also protest outside of Channel 4’s London offices.
Jackson songs climb the UK iTunes charts
While Billboard US reports that Jackson’s album sales fell 8,000 following Leaving Neverland‘s broadcast, reports emerge that the compilation album has reached the number 23 spot on the UK iTunes albums charts. the records The Essential Michael Jackson, Thriller and Bad also make their way into the top 200.