leaving neverland

We all knew that Michael Jackson was a predator. We also knew that R. Kelly was a predator. Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump  and a slew of others who have recently been “canceled” are people we already knew attacked and abused women and young children. 

Even as kids, we heard jokes about Michael Jackson keeping children in his house and molesting them. We joked about R. Kelly urinating on young girls — remember the Macklemore lyric? “Smells like R. Kelly’s sheets: piss?” We laughed about actresses being coerced into having sex for roles.

So what’s different now? Why are documentaries and docuseries sparking these conversations years after they should have happened? 

The #MeToo movement paved the way for serious conversations about sexual assault and rape, especially with regard to people with power. We can now speak openly, for the most part, about how power dynamics are used by habitual predators to take advantage of young fans and aspiring actors and actresses. 

In the recently released “Leaving Neverland,” Michael Jackson’s alleged victims, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, recount their experiences. The two men, now in their 30s, allege that they were sexually molested by Jackson in his home, Neverland Ranch, and his apartment in Los Angeles. In 1993, Jackson was accused of sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy and settled out of court in a civil case. No criminal charges were filed against him until 2005, when he was acquitted of child sexual abuse.

Director Dan Reed calls the film a study of childhood sexual abuse and the effect the experience has on a family. After receiving some backlash to the documentary, he said in a Guardian column, “I’m shocked by those who still won’t accept Michael Jackson as [an] abuser.” Response to the documentary has been divided, with some Jackson fans reexamining his legacy and some coming ardently to his defense. 

People have reacted similarly to “Surviving R. Kelly,” a six-part docuseries that aired on Lifetime in January. Recently, Kelly was interviewed by Gayle King for CBS and exploded in a rage about how he is being attacked and all the accusations are false, but in February he was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. 

It seems that many can only safely say they’ll stand up for victims of child sexual abuse if the perpetrator is not a successful man. Are we really that unwilling to take songs like “Thriller” and “Ignition (Remix)” off our playlists?