Michael Jackson's Estate Slams New Sundance Documentary Alleging Sexual Abuse of Children
Michael Jackson’s estate is speaking out against a new documentary that alleges the late King of Pop sexually abused children.
The film titled Leaving Neverland, which is set to premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25, is described on the festival website as telling the story of two men, now in their 30s, who “befriended” Jackson at the ages of 7 and 10. Throughout their “long-running relationships” with the singer, the men claim he “sexually abused” and “manipulated” them.
While the names of the two men featured in the film have not been made public, Jackson’s estate called out Wade Robson and James Safechuck in a statement obtained by PEOPLE on Thursday.
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the statement reads. “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 continues. “It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Neither Robson and Safechuck have released a statement about whether they are, in fact, the men featured in the film.
In 2017, a California judge dismissed Robson’s case against Jackson’s estate and two companies it controls, MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, and ruled that it is not liable for Jackson’s alleged childhood sexual abuse of the celebrity choreographer.
Robson first sued in 2013, claiming that Jackson abused him for nearly a decade. He later said in an amended complaint to his 2013 lawsuit that MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures were operations “specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims.” A probate court in 2015 rejected his claim against the estate itself, which left the two business entities as defendants.
At the time of the ruling, Jackson’s estate said in a statement, “In my opinion Mr. Robson’s allegations, made 20 plus years after they supposedly occurred and years after Mr. Robson testified twice under oath — including in front of a jury — that Michael Jackson had never done anything wrong to him were always about the money rather than a search for the truth.”
Robson said he first met Jackson when he was 5 years old after winning a competition run by MJJ Productions in his native Australia. Two years later, his family was invited to stay at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch home in California, where he claims he slept in Jackson’s bed and said he was first sexually abused by him.
He claimed the abuse continued for seven years and ended only when he “began showing signs of puberty” and Jackson was “no longer as interested in him sexually.”
Robson had previously appeared as a witness for Jackson’s defense during a separate sexual abuse trial in 2005 in which the pop star was acquitted of child molestation charges.
In 2014, Safechuck, then in his 30s, claimed he was sexually abused by the singer when he was 10 years old after appearing in a Pepsi commercial with him.
Safechuck claimed in court papers that after multiple visits to Jackson’s home (some of which were chaperoned by his parents) and several all-expense-paid cross-country trips, he joined Jackson on his Bad tour, which is when he alleged the first incident of sexual abuse occurred.
On Thursday, Deadline reported that HBO and the UK’s Channel 4 also plan to air the documentary — which is directed by The Paedophile Hunter’s Dan Reed — after its debut at Sundance.
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In May, Jackson’s estate sued The Walt Disney Company and ABC for copyright infringement after they aired their prime time special The Last Days of Michael Jackson, which investigated Jackson’s troubled life from his young rise to fame to his decline into addiction and debt in his later years.
The estate claimed ABC used a plethora of copyrighted materials without permission, from his hits (“Billie Jean,” “Beat It”) and clips of music videos (“Thriller,” “Bad”) to live concert footage, a portion of the 2016 Spike Lee documentary Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall and the 2009 documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It.
An ABC News spokesperson told PEOPLE at the time, “We have not yet had an opportunity to review the complaint. The ABC News’ documentary explored the life, career and legacy of Michael Jackson, who remains of great interest to people worldwide, and did not infringe on his estate’s rights.”
Before the documentary aired, Jackson’s estate slammed the piece in a statement: “We believe the special to be another crass and unauthorized attempt to exploit the life, music and image of Michael Jackson without respect for Michael’s legacy, intellectual property rights or his children.”