Michael Jackson was “very manipulative and very deliberate in his grooming” of young boys, according to the director of a controversial documentary about the pop superstar.
Dan Reed said his film Leaving Neverland, which will air in two parts on Channel 4 next month, will demonstrate that the singer was very different from his “Peter Pan-ish image”.
It features interviews with two alleged victims of Jackson – James Safechuck and Wade Robson – who say that he abused them when he was children.
Reed said: “I have always approached this film as a film about Wade Robson and James Safechuck, not a film about Michael Jackson.
“It’s about Wade and James and their families and that’s the story that I set out to tell.
“The fact that it’s about Michael Jackson gives it an extraordinary reach and I think will open a lot of people’s eyes to the way child sexual abuse, this sort of grooming mode that Jackson practised, how it actually all plays out.
“The attachment between the victims and the abusers. I think that’s very strongly depicted by these two guys in the film, and so I think you see through the film that although Jackson… this Peter Pan-ish image that he projected out there disguised a reality which was very different.
“And he was very manipulative and very deliberate in his grooming and in his sexual activities with these children that took place over many, many years.
“And it appears that they weren’t the only victims and certainly then when Jordan Chandler and Gavin Arvizo stood up and made claims against Jackson, he very deliberately mobilised his lawyers to crush them, to pay them off, so there was nothing sort of innocent about the way that he pursued his sexual adventures with children.”
Jackson, who died in 2009, was accused of molesting the then 13-year-old Arvizo, conspiring to kidnap him and his family and giving him alcohol, but was found not guilty of all charges following a four-month trial.
Addressing why the film includes such graphic descriptions of abuse, Reed said: “For such a long time Jackson hid in plain sight, saying that his relationships with children were innocent and it was just sort of cuddles at bedtime, innocent slumber parties, sleepovers and what have you, and I needed really to establish in the most graphic terms that what Jackson was doing with little children was sex. It was full-on sex.
“It wasn’t slightly inappropriate touching or a kiss and a cuddle that went a bit too far, it was deliberate, regular sex, and that’s why we needed these very graphic descriptions to leave people in no doubt.”
He added: “I wouldn’t get behind a campaign to ban his music, I don’t think that makes any sense. Is this the time to celebrate Michael Jackson? I don’t think so.
“I think it’s a time to acknowledge the man he was. He was also a brilliant entertainer. Maybe those things one day can fit together in people’s minds, but there’s going to be a period of reevaluation of who he was and then, of course, in his work as well.”
The film is a co-production between Channel 4 and US channel HBO and Jackson’s estate is suing HBO, claiming the cable channel is violating a 1992 contract for showing a Jackson concert in which it agreed not to disparage the singer.
The Jackson estate has dismissed the film as “yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in” on the pop star’s legacy.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the estate sent a letter to Channel 4 warning that the film violates the network’s programming guidelines, an allegation the channel denies.
Ian Katz, director of programmes, told the Press Association: “The way in which Dan has given James and Wade the space to tell their stories in such painstaking detail makes it such a devastating piece of work.
“Dan has not just ended the argument over whether Michael Jackson was a paedophile but he has given a rare insight into how whole families could be sucked into the vortex of Jackson’s celebrity, and how victims of abuse can often be extraordinarily conflicted about the way they feel about their abusers even years after the abuse took place.
“It is hard not to feel dismay that he was able to effectively buy himself out of trouble. The way in which the Jackson estate have responded to this film by seeking to denigrate and discredit Wade and James, even to use a history of mental illness in Wade’s family to discredit him is frankly pretty despicable. Anyone who watches this film will see this is a cynical response.”
Leaving Neverland is due to air on Channel 4 on March 6 and March 7.