The Jackson family have issued a statement describing the explosive new documentary Leaving Neverland as a "public lynching" of the late King of Pop

By Jordan RuntaghJeff Nelson and Sarah Michaud
January 28, 2019 07:50 PM
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Michael Jackson
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Michael Jackson’s family has issued a passionate statement denouncing the documentary Leaving Neverland, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday. The four-hour exposé, which will air on HBO this spring, centers around claims from James Safechuck and Wade Robson, both of whom say they endured years of Jackson’s inappropriate behavior and manipulation.

Labeling the pair “two admitted liars,” the Jackson family reiterates that they remain “proud of what Michael Jackson stands for” in a statement issued on Monday.

“People have always loved to go after Michael,” it continues. “He was an easy target because he was unique. But Michael was subjected to a thorough investigation which included a surprise raid of Neverland and other properties as well as a jury trial where Michael was found to be COMPLETELY INNOCENT. There has never been one piece of proof of anything.”

Director Dan Reed rebuked these claims in a statement to PEOPLE. “Anyone who sees the film will know it is solely about hearing the stories of two specific individuals and their families in their own words, and that is a focus we are very proud of,” he says. “We feel no need to include the opinions of people with no direct knowledge of what happened to those individuals.”

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.

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.

The Jackson family’s statement continued by saying, “Michael always turned the other cheek, and we have always turned the other cheek when people have gone after members of our family — that is the Jackson way. But we can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on, and the vulture tweeters and others who never met Michael go after him. Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made.”

RELATED VIDEO: Choreographer Wade Robson Claims Michael Jackson Ran the ‘Most Sophisticated Child Sexual Abuse’ Operation in History in New Complaint

They go on to reference the makers of Leaving Neverland, including Reed. “The creators of this film were not interested in the truth. They never interviewed a single solitary soul who knew Michael except the two perjurers and their families. That is not journalism, and it’s not fair, ­yet the media are perpetuating these stories. But the truth is on our side. Go do your research about these opportunists. The facts don’t lie, people do. Michael Jackson was and always will be 100 percent innocent of these false allegations.”

Since the film’s premiere, Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson, 45, has repeatedly and vehemently denounced the allegations made in the documentary.

“My family and I have known Wade and his family since he came to America. Don’t tell me a 4 hour one sided hit job that you watched is more reputable than people who actually knew him and saw his interactions,” he wrote on Saturday. “This is all about money and the desperate need to be relevant again.”

The previous day, Taj claimed Robson and Safechuck were “acting” in the film and criticized 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.”

He has also created a GoFundMe page in support of his uncle, with the aim of creating 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 $28,000 of its $777,000 goal.

Prior to the film’s Friday premiere, 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” allegations.

Michael Jackson.
SANTA MARIA, CA - APRIL 29: Michael Jackson arrives at the Santa Barbara County courthouse April 29, 2005 in Santa Maria, California. Jackson is charged in a 10-count indictment with molesting a boy, plying him with liquor and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“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.

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.

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 another.

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. He is survived by his three children: Prince Michael, 21, Paris, 20, and 16-year-old “Blanket,” who now goes by Bigi.