Scrambling to soften the impact of HBO's Leaving Neverland, which alleges that Michael Jackson sexually abused two children, the late singer's estate has been informing the media of its many concerns about the credibility of the film and its stars, accusers James Safechuck and Wade Robson.
The estate recently provided Billboard with a 24-page working PowerPoint document, titled "Leaving Neverland and the Truth," that questions the accusers' memories and the filmmakers' motives in detail. The estate also attached recent news clips in which the singer's defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr. called the charges "hogwash."
1986: Michael Jackson sits with Elizabeth Taylor at the horse races at Hollywood Park. The glamorous queen of American movie stardom, whose achievements as an actress were often overshadowed by her rapturous looks and real-life dramas, died early Wednesday, March 23, 2011, of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said publicist Sally Morrison. She was 79. (Los Angles Times/MCT)
The document, not intended for publication, details what the estate says are dozens of examples in the documentary of bias, inconsistency and footage taken out of context. In the film, for example, Robson says Jackson invited him to sleep in his bed, but "in his deposition," the material states, "he makes clear that he and his sister were the ones who initiated the idea, and that Michael insisted they ask their parents." The film also portrays Jackson wishing Robson a happy birthday in a video "suggesting a creepy, predatory manner," when he recorded numerous similar greetings around the same time, the estate notes. Other concerns: the director "audibly coached" Robson at one point in an interview; the film neglects to mention Robson's attempts to find work with Cirque du Soleil's tribute shows after Jackson's death; and Jackson's defense attorney Mark Geragos appears to be threatening an accuser in a 2005 clip shown in the movie — but the estate says the clip was pulled from a press conference from unrelated litigation involving a charter-jet company.
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"The quotes are taken out of context and no effort was made to clarify," notes the estate, which sued HBO before the film's wide debut for violating a 1992 nondisparagement clause. (The network didn't comment.)
But an estate representative says few media outlets have expressed interest in its grievances with the film.
"Much of this information is available online, and we have sent various pieces to the media, but no one has really been interested in reporting on it [or] digging further than the documentary," the estate rep told Billboard.
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Mesereau, in an interview with Billboard, said the Leaving Neverland accusations were reminiscent of Jackson's 2004-05 child-molestation trial, when "the entire world was condemning him and no one thought we could get a fair trial." A jury found Jackson not guilty of all charges. (Ron Zonen, the retired prosecutor who helped bring Jackson to trial in 2004, says the defense attorney is "preserving his own legacy.")
In an interview, estate attorneys were equally keen to point out inconsistencies. The night before Robson testified for the defense during the 2005 trial, he said in Leaving Neverland, Jackson looked upset at a dinner. But Jackson's nephew Taj and others who were present said the dinner took place after the testimony.
"That whole story is made-up fiction," says Jonathan Steinsapir, one of the estate's attorneys. Adds his partner, Howard Weitzman: "It's hard to tell what the impact [of the documentary] will be. What is clear is people are drawing conclusions without knowing all the facts. They're depending on a documentary that we know is not completely accurate."
Vince Finaldi, attorney for Robson and Safechuck, explains that misremembering small details is normal for child victims of abuse: "They can try and nitpick little things — 'Was he sitting on the left or the right side of the car?' If you understand the mechanics of sexual abuse, kids are not remembering insignificant details, but they have a vivid memory of what happened to them."
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Moment Michael Jackson accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck met for the first time on Jam set
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