Leaving Neverland and the Question of Legacy
Hollywood is no stranger to the toxic climate of sexual abuse and harassment. With 1 out of 6 American women experiencing sexual assault, and 1 out of every 10 rape victims being male, it is no wonder why the #MeToo movement has grown so significantly throughout social media. In the past two years alone, recognizing sexual abuse and holding people accountable has become a top priority. From Harvey Weinstein to Bryan Singer, it seems that the industry most famous for its dirty secrets is ready to come clean.
Of course, it leaves room for an uncomfortable realization that some of our most celebrated actors and singers may also be hiding a horrible truth. In fact, it brings up a difficult question: does the artistry excuse allegations of sexual abuse?
Music would not be what it is today had it not been for Michael Jackson. Whether it was through his iconic songs or flawless moonwalk, Jackson transformed what it meant to be an entertainer. To deny his impact on music and pop culture itself would be crazy.
But to ignore the history of bold accusations of child abuse would also be irresponsible.
These past few weeks, there has been a media storm over the future of Michael Jackson’s shaky legacy. Arguably the best entertainer of all time, the deceased singer has drummed up controversy yet again with HBO special Leaving Neverland, the documentary highlighting the King of Pop’s history of allegedly abusing young boys.
Leaving Neverland is the story of how accusers Wade Robinson and James Safechuck met the King of Pop. Over four hours, the former child performers share in detail how they survived years of sexual abuse while living in Jackson’s eerie Neverland, an estate dedicated to the Lost Boys- a sad symbol of the childhood he was never able to have. The two-part documentary is hard to watch, and even harder to think about as an MJ fan.
Despite having admitted previously that their allegations were false, Robinson and Safechuck are telling their stories once again. They both shared that they had met Jackson at a young age- in fact, Robinson was 7 years old when he was first invited to sleep over at the Jackson estate. Robinson also claimed that Jackson had begun an inappropriate affair with Home Alone actor Macaulay Culkin before both child performers were asked to defend Jackson as witnesses to his shocking 2005 sexual abuse lawsuit.
While Culkin has defended Jackson throughout the years, Robinson and and Safechuck are now claiming that they had lied on the stand for their own protection against Jackson. Both have recently filed lawsuits against the Jackson estate, and are currently appealing after a judge dismissed their cases on technical issues.
Loyal fans were quick to bring up inconsistencies over the years that have clouded the sexual abuse allegations. They brought up Wade Robinson’s history of pursuing jobs concerning Michael Jackson projects, and suffering nervous breakdowns after failing to achieve fame. Fans also noted that Robinson had changed his claims several times for why he was suddenly accusing Jackson of sexual abuse after years of defending and even congratulating him in the public eye.
Even other celebrities came to Jackson’s defense. Rapper T.I. ranted on Instagram that this focus on documenting Jackson’s accusers was just another conspiracy to ruin another famous black man’s legacy.
Interestingly enough, this has been the same argument used to defend R. Kelly and Bill Cosby when they were accused of serious sexual abuse. Despite both men having substantial evidence that they had indeed raped numerous women, fans were eager to call out the fact that these were important black figures in the entertainment industry, and that perhaps somebody bigger just wanted them out of the picture.
The truth of the matter is, when you pick an artist’s work and their talent over the serious allegations, you are telling the victim that they do not matter. And when you tell one victim that, you are essentially telling all victims that their story is not important.
With Jackson dead and unable to defend himself from a #MeToo incident, it does seem convenient that the very people who had recanted their allegations are suddenly claiming they lied about the abuse not happening. But can we really call alleged victims of sexual abuse liars? Truthfully, the only person who knows what really happened is dead. All we have is Jackson’s legacy versus their truth. It leaves us in an awkward, and perhaps, painful spot.
Perhaps we must come to terms with the fact that our celebrities, the people we grew up listening to and admiring, may not be the stars we truly see them for. A person’s musical talent will always be there, but so will the fact that these people may have used their talent and status as a tool for hurting others.
The best we can do is take in all information critically; and to hope that the conversation about sexual abuse and the abuse of power and status doesn’t get overshadowed by those who do not understand the fundamental message behind #MeToo.