The Director of ‘Leaving Neverland’ Says the Doc Expands the #MeToo Movement

Michael Jackson | Kimberly White/Corbis via Getty Images
Michael Jackson | Kimberly White/Corbis via Getty Images

Leaving Neverland, the controversial documentary that recently premiered on HBO, tells the story of two men who grew up as “close friends” with Michael Jackson when they themselves were little boys. They share their stories of how they were won over, manipulated, and sexually assaulted for a defining part of their childhoods. They share how the most beloved pop star in the world tore apart their families and almost ruined their adult lives.

The director and producer of the film, Dan Reed, says, for him, the documentary was never about Michael Jackson–it was about believing victims even when the face of child molestation is that of a well loved public figure.

The ‘Leaving Neverland’ director and producer talks about his hopes for the film

“This is a film about Wade Robson and James Safechuck and they and their families coming to terms with what happened to them as children. And in telling that story, we are in a position to educate people out there about the kind of grooming child sexual abuse that really goes on, what really happens, because there’s a kind of assumption that child sexual abuse involves a guy in a dirty trench coat who grabs a kid and drags them into an alley and does violent things. More often than not, that’s not the case. More often than not, it’s gentle, it’s seduction. It’s seduction that mirrors seduction in an adult context, except it’s happening with a little child who cannot really–cannot consent,” Reed said in an interview with Billboard. “If we can bring that, if we can begin to tell that bigger story to the world then it doesn’t matter if it’s Michael Jackson or the priest or the guy next door or the uncle or the beloved family friend that you trusted with your child. That is a really great, positive difference that we can make.”

Reed went on to discuss how the film “clearly feeds into the whole ‘me too’ movement.”

“It’s about little boys, it’s about children and men, male victims of sexual assault, and I think that kind of expands the ‘me too’ movement in a good way,” he said.  

How ‘Leaving Neverland’ fits into the ‘me too’ movement

As defined by MeToo’s website, the movement was “founded in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing.”

The site talks about the movemnet’s goal going forward: to reframe the global conversation around sexual violence to speak to the needs of a broader spectrum of survivors.

Though Me Too began with a focus on black women and girls, its future goals include expanding the specturm of survivors the movement speaks for, according to the website. Child sexual abuse survivors certainly broadens the current spectrum. Is this the sort of broadening the movement is referring to?

When Leaving Neverland premiered at Sundance, Reed was nervous about how the audience would react. He heard quiet murmurs throughout the showing and at intermission, he said the audince looked “shell shocked.” When the film was over, though, he was greeted with uprorious applause and a standing ovation. He told Billboard that that moment at Sundance was a turning point for him because he thought “Wow, people have identified with [Wade and James]. People believe them.”

A theater full of people at Sundance may not have been ready to believe the personal accounts from Robson, Safechuck, and their families that went against the magnificently adored Michael Jackson were it not for the ‘me too’ movement. In a way, every time a survivor of sexual abuse comes forward today it is related to MeToo simply because it is that movement that got us in the habit of believing victims.

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