Those who attended the film's debut described it as "disturbing," while fans of Jackson fiercely defended him
The long-awaited Michael Jackson documentary has finally arrived — and it was met with quite a strong reaction.
Prior to its start, police officers guarded the theater to manage any potential protests and healthcare professionals were seated in the lobby, offering support to any audience members who were upset by the documentary’s content, according to Variety‘s Matt Donnelly.
The emotional film was only halfway through when viewers began sharing their thoughts on the “sickening” claims from James Safechuck and Wade Robson, both of whom say they endured years of Jackson’s inappropriate behaviors and manipulation.
“it’s halftime at the four-hour Michael Jackson doc and I’m already gonna need 400 showers to ever feel clean again. #Sundance” David Ehrlich, a Senior Film Critic at Indie Wire, tweeted after the doc’s first two hours.
“On a 10-min break halfway through Sundance’s 4-hour Michael Jackson child sex abuse documentary,” wrote Kevin Fallon, Senior Entertainment Reporter at The Daily Beast. “Whatever you thought you knew or were aware of, the content of this is more disturbing than you could imagine. And again, we’re only halfway through.”
Critics who attended the screening later wrote early Twitter reviews of the film — Scott Mantz called it “shocking, sad, disturbing, and devastating” — but many of them were met by anger from Jackson’s fans, who fiercely defended the King of Pop.
Journalist Gerrick D. Kennedy described the film as “Painful. Brutally upsetting. Triggering” and added, “My heart is incredibly broken. I’m sorry y’all. This hurts. Bad.”
In response, fans argued back that there was “no evidence” and that people “never tried to understand Michael and see who he really was.”
“You are falling for the wrong stuff & you are being played and you will see that pretty soon! Wait on it,” wrote one fan.
“It is all very disturbing but the realizations that the sustained abuse Michael Jackson allegedly inflicted on Wade Robson occurred when he was only 7 just makes you want to vomit,” tweeted Vanity Fair writer Nicole Sperling.
To her tweet, a fan responded: “History will be kind to Michael Jackson. Sadly, he was too good for this planet. I’m sorry you are even swayed and manipulated by these men’s lies. I hope you seek the truth.”
The Los Angeles Times‘ Amy Kaufman noted that there was an “incredibly emotional reaction from the audience” after the screening, which prompted one viewer to open up about his own traumatic experience.
“One audience member says he was molested as a child and that Robson and Safechuck ‘are going to do a lot more f–king good in the world than Michael f–king Jackson,'” she wrote.
But again, more fans quickly snapped back. “No, they don’t. No evidence, nothing that can be considered a prove.. Just two guys telling a story. Michael Jackson was found innocent on a fair trial. That’s the only fact here,” wrote one Twitter user.
“I’m having an incredibly emotional reaction from myself right now,” added another fan. “this is 1993 all over again and the only thing that has changed is, that Michael is not even here to defend himself. The “victims” are STILL lying and their only motivations STILL are money and attention.”
“They’re only making things worse. Michael is innocent. Examine your own obsession to continually try to prove a dead man guilty for something even the FBI couldn’t prove,” wrote someone else.
RELATED VIDEO: Choreographer Wade Robson Claims Michael Jackson Ran the ‘Most Sophisticated Child Sexual Abuse’ Operation in History in New Complaint
Fans weren’t the only people to slam the film and allegations.
Jackson’s estate issued a statement to PEOPLE earlier this month, ahead of the Sundance premiere, and blasted the documentary for it’s “pathetic attempt” to make money off of the pop singer.
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the statement read. “Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception’, filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.”
“This so called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations,” the statement continued. “It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Jackson’s family also spoke up on social media about the allegations. The singer’s nephew Taj Jackson claimed Robson and Safechuck were “acting” in the film and slammed the media for “condemning an innocent man.”
“After years of coaching and studying for these roles, I’m sure Wade (self proclaimed “Master of Deception”) and Jimmy both gave Oscar winning performances today,” he wrote. “Media, please do a 10 minute google search before you condemn an innocent man who is no longer here to defend himself.”
In addition, he created a GoFundMe page in support of his uncle to create a new documentary, which plans to “conclusively destroy decades of salacious myths which have been told and sold about Michael Jackson.” The campaign has since raised over $26,000.
Despite the passionate reactions from viewers, family, and fans alike, Robson, 36, and Safechuck, 40, reportedly received a standing ovation at Sundance after the film had ended, according to TMZ.
Jackson was 50 years old when he was found dead on June 25, 2009, in his L.A. mansion.
Leaving Neverland will premiere on HBO this spring.