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After it recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the documentary Leaving Neverland immediately became a source of controversy. The film follows two adults who claim that Michael Jackson sexually abused them as children. The pop star’s family and estate responded to the film by putting out a statement that denied the claims of the film and its principals ,as well as declared that Leaving Neverland is not a documentary, but a tabloid character assassination. Now the film’s director, Dan Reed, has responded to their statement, assuring that his film is a documentary. He said:
It is a four-hour documentary by an experienced documentarian with a long track record in investigation and telling complex stories and this is a complex story. So I'd say it's beyond doubt a documentary. Anyone with any knowledge of that form would recognize a documentary. A four-hour piece, is that a tabloid?
In his response to Michael Jackson’s estate, Dan Reed seems to take the most issue with the claim that his film is not a documentary. He defends Leaving Neverland’s documentary status and rebukes any notion that it is tabloid fodder with this matter-of-fact response.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Dan Reed laid out the various ways in which his film qualifies as a documentary, including his history as a documentary filmmaker, which is not a matter of opinion. Dan Reed has lots of documentary credits to his name, including for films that tackled complex subjects just like the one Leaving Neverland covers. So in defending the film, Dan Reed is also listing off the credentials that made him qualified to make it.
In addition to saying that his film is a documentary, Dan Reed also questioned whether or not Michael Jackson’s family, the ones criticizing his film, have even seen it. He said:
Their statements are not consistent with having watched the movie.
The way Dan Reed sees it, the Jackson family didn’t give his film its due consideration, condemning it without even seeing it because of the subjects in the film and the story being told. Of course, if the film even insinuates the Michael Jackson sexually abused the two subjects as children, I don’t imagine that seeing the film would change the Jackson family’s opinion of it.
Elsewhere in his discussion with THR, he asserts that he made no attempt to characterize Michael Jackson at all in the film, and that Leaving Neverland is a story about two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, their families and the impact that sexual abuse had on them, and that their relationship with Michael Jackson is just an element of the story.
Given the delicate nature of the story and the entrenched beliefs in Michael Jackson’s guilt or innocence, I wouldn’t expect this to be the last volley back and forth we hear about Leaving Neverland.
HBO is planning to premiere Leaving Neverland in March on the channel/platform. Because Leaving Neverland is a four-hour film, HBO is expected to split it into two separate chunks to air over two nights.
Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for all the latest movie news, and check out our 2019 release schedule to see the movies you can look forward to in this jam-packed year.