Minor spoilers below for the first half of Leaving Neverland*_.*_
Arguably one of the most controversial TV airings of the midseason and/or year kicked off on Sunday night with the first part of HBO's Leaving Neverland, which centers on a host of detailed sexual molestation allegations made against pop icon Michael Jackson. The documentary's first half ended with viewers seeing Jackson's attention shift from key accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck to Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin and another youth, Brett Barnes.
Considering Leaving Neverland first screened at Sundance, it's been known for a while that the limelight-reclusive actor Macaulay Culkin did not take part any interviews for the documentary. (Culkin did speak out about his friendship with Michael Jackson in January.) Director Dan Reed talked with Business Insider about why he specifically didn't reach out to Culkin for Leaving Neverland.
I gave it some serious thought. In the end I knew that Macaulay and Brett had made statements consistently rebutting allegations that were made. I'm not in the business of outing anyone. I think we make it very clear in the film that they deny to this day that anything sexual happened and I'm not about to try to change their minds about that.
Indeed, at no point during the many years after Michael Jackson first faced child molestation allegations did Macaulay Culkin ever sway from the stance that his friendship with the King of Pop never became anything more nefarious or criminal. Dan Reed's purpose in making Leaving Neverland wasn't to try and elicit any kind of confessions from anyone, but rather to draw more eyes and ears to the allegations of Wade Robson and James Safechuck.
To that end, had either Robson or Safechuck discussed Macaulay Culkin or others in the context of their claims of sexual molestation, Dan Reed said he would have opened up a line of communication.
I don't want to push Macaulay or Brett to admit anything they don't want to admit, or confront anything they don't want to confront right now. If at any point Wade said, 'Yeah, Macaulay was in the corner of the bedroom when Michael did X or Y with me,' of course I would have gone to Macaulay and asked if he remembered that. That would have been vital. But that didn't happen.
Almost to the contrary, Macaulay Culkin's appearance on Leaving Neverland is presented as being a big reason why Michael Jackson started to spend less time with Wade Robson and James Safechuck. As such, the young boys might not have crossed paths with Culkin that much under any circumstances.
Having Macaulay Culkin – or Brett Barnes, for that matter – answer interview questions for Leaving Neverland would have actually been a striking change. The other interview subjects for the documentary were just Wade Robson, James Safechuck and their various family members who were present during the then-boys' time with Michael Jackson.
The documentary's one-argument approach is a lot of why it's been such a controversial project. Many claim that Dan Reed failed to take an objective approach by only telling one side of the story, and Michael Jackson's estate has been quite vocal in saying that Leaving Neverland is meritless. The estate recently dropped a $100 million lawsuit on HBO over it, which the cable channel didn't balk at.
What's more, the late singer's estate also offered up some Michael Jackson-friendly counter-programming to Leaving Neverland's first night by uploading to social media a concert film from Jackson's Dangerous world tour. A similar plan is in place to release another concert online during the airing of Part 2.
Leaving Neverland's second part airs on HBO on Monday, March 4, at 8:00 p.m.