“This moment transcends Michael Jackson,” Oprah Winfrey recently declared, speaking of the newly released documentary Leaving Neverland. “It is much bigger than any one person. It’s a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption.”
Indeed, the documentary by Dan Reed – which focuses on the stories of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who claim to have experienced chronic abuse at the hands of Jackson – comes at a time when society and institutions such as Hollywood are reexamining their treatment and relationship with victimhood. It follows the Weinstein allegations, the #metoo movement, and the documentary series Surviving R Kelly, which was released in January this year.
The difference, perhaps, with the Jackson allegations is the notoriety of his career – precious few 20th century artists have had the influence of Michael Jackson.Contemporary American culture is interwoven with Jackson’s work, and with Thriller selling over 100 million copies, and reported total worldwide sales of over 1 billion, he is one of the country’s most successful exports. As a result, the latest documentary encourages uncomfortable wider questions about how the country views itself and what it is willing to bear witness to.
It’s in this light that Cinema Akil, Dubai’s foremost arthouse movie theatre, has decided to bring the documentary to the city. Known for showcasing award-winning documentaries and films, from Capernaum to McQueen, the cinema is expected to show the two-part, four-hour documentary this spring in Alserkal Avenue.
Leaving Neverland was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where the explicit nature of the documentary required professional councillors to be available to viewers after the screening. The film has gone on to be shown in the UK on Channel 4 and in the US on HBO (despite the Jackson family threatening the US channel with legal action).
As with previous abuse allegations (with children who came forward in 1993 and 2004), the Jackson estate has vehemently denied the cases included in the documentary. Similarly, diehard Jackson fans have spoken out against the allegations, with both Robson and Safechuck saying that they’ve received death threats since the movie’s release.
Despite the inevitable furore that surrounds a documentary of this kind, in which the accused is a global pop icon, perhaps Oprah Winfrey described the work best: “Don’t let any person in your world make it just about what Michael Jackson did or did not do,” she observed. “It’s about this thing, this insidious pattern that’s happening in our culture that we refuse to look at.”
• Leaving Neverland is showing at 7pm on 24 April and 1 May, and 2pm on 27 April. For more info, visit cinemaakil.com