Channel 4 to air ‘Leaving Neverland’ Michael Jackson documentary despite backlash

“There is no change in our commitment”

Channel 4 has refused to pull a documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse following demands from the late singer’s estate.

A spokesperson for the broadcaster told The Guardian that the Jackson estate and his fans had “sent messages” about Leaving Neverland, but added: “There is no change in our commitment to airing the documentary.”

Director Dan Reed’s film is centred on testimony by Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 41, who both claim that Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. Both men brought civil suits against the singer’s estate following his death, which were thrown out by a judge in 2017, who ruled the estate could not be held liable for the singer’s behaviour.

Michael Jackson and Wade Robson

Reed explained to NME earlier this week why he felt that he needed to make the documentary. “We had to establish that this wasn’t close physical contact of an innocent kind. This was full-on sexual activity. And that’s why there are these rather brutally graphic scenes described in the film,” he claimed.

Leaving Neverland airs in the UK in two parts on March 6 and 7 following the US network broadcast on HBO this Sunday, March 3 and Monday, March 4. It premiered at Sundance film festival in January, spawning a backlash from fans and Jackson’s state alike.

Last month, the late pop star’s estate filed a lawsuit against HBO for $100 million (£76.7 million), claiming that the film violates a non-disparagement clause in a contract the network entered into with the star in 1992. The lawsuit states that when the channel aired Michael Jackson In Concert In Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour, it agreed to a clause that barred them from disparaging Jackson in any future programming.

Michael Jackson’s family have denied the allegations in Leaving Neverland. Appearing on CBS This Morning earlier this week, Jackson’s brothers Tito, Marlon, and Jackie, and his nephew Taj discussed the documentary and the claims featured in it.

The accusers at the centre of the film allege that Jackson sent them “love letters”. In the CBS clip Taj showed host Gayle King some of the notes he had received from his uncle, which featured sentiments of love and pride. “My uncle gave letters like that all the time to people that he cared about,” he explained. “There’s nothing salacious about it.”

He added that he “grew up” attending Jackson’s “sleepovers” with children. “For me, it wasn’t odd,” he said. “To the outside world, yes, I think it can be odd. I mean, I’m not oblivious to what it sounds like. But when you’re actually there in that atmosphere and you’re around it, and you’re watching movies with his kids, it’s very innocent.”

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