Leaving Neverland, the two-part documentary about child-abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, airs Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO
Dan Reed — the director of Leaving Neverland, a two-part documentary about child-molestation allegations against the late Michael Jackson — is opening up about the decision to include explicit details in the film.
During a Friday morning interview on the Today show, co-host Savannah Guthrie asked the filmmaker why he chose that route, calling the information “incredibly graphic” with “no euphemisms whatsoever.”
Reed said he believes Jackson’s true actions against Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, the two men in the film who allege they endured abuse as children, as well as potentially other boys, went unchecked for too long under the guise of the singer wanting to “[live] out his childhood” with young boys. And Reed wants to tell their version of the full story.
“For many years, Michael Jackson kind of hid in plain sight,” said Reed. “He portrayed himself as someone who never had a childhood and therefore was living out his childhood very much in the public eye — he’d be seen everywhere holding hands with a little boy — and he said that his interest in little boys was entirely innocent.”
“He admitted that he slept, spent nights with them, but nothing happened,” Reed continued. “And so for many years, the public bought into this. Everyone bought into this. And he was able to spend so much time in the company of little children without people thinking there was anything strange about this.”
Along with Safechuck, Robson, now 36, had denied being molested by Jackson in the past. He previously appeared as a witness for the late pop singer’s defense during a sexual-abuse trial in 2005 in which Jackson was acquitted of child-molestation charges.
“Michael’s training of me to testify began the first night that he started abusing me,” Robson alleged during a CBS This Morning interview that aired Thursday morning. “He started telling me that, ‘If anybody else ever finds out, we’ll both go to jail, both of our lives will be over.’ “
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Speaking of Robson’s decision to open up now about the alleged sexual abuse he suffered as a child, Reed told Today that Robson was inspired after becoming a father.
“I think a big moment for Wade — and Wade kind of led the way — was having his own son,” the director shared. “So when his son came into the world and he saw this child and he realized what it is to have a child in your care … he began to imagine Michael doing the things to his little boy that he’d done to 7-year-old Wade, and these images were revolting and disgusting.”
“And yet, when he thought about his own experience with Michael, he felt nothing,” Reed added on Today. “And that’s the tragic thing here is that a deep attachment forms between the abuser and the victim — and the sexual relationship, even at such a young age, becomes normalized, and you think, ‘This is love. I’m special.’ “
On Feb. 22, PEOPLE obtained court documents that showed Jackson’s estate had filed a lawsuit over the planned broadcast, suing HBO and its parent company, Time Warner, for $100 million — claiming that airing the two-part film will violate a non-disparagement clause.
Leaving Neverland garnered significant buzz upon its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last month. Jackson’s estate issued a statement to PEOPLE in January ahead of the Sundance premiere and blasted the documentary as a “pathetic attempt” to make money off of the 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.”
Leaving Neverland has drawn more criticism from members of Jackson’s family, including his brothers Tito, 65, Marlon, 61, and Jackie, who emphatically deny any allegations of abuse.
“I don’t care to see it,” Jackie, 67, said. “No, because I know my brother. I don’t have to see that documentary. I know Michael. I’m the oldest brother. I know my brother. I know what he stood for. What he was all about. Bringing the world together. Making kids happy. That’s the kind of person he was.”
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, HBO said, “Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged. HBO will move forward with the airing of Leaving Neverland, the two-part documentary, on March 3 and 4. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”
Jackson died in 2009 at age 50, leaving behind three children: Prince Michael, 22, Paris, 20, and “Blanket,” 17, who now goes by Bigi.
Leaving Neverland airs Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. EST on HBO.