The director of Leaving Neverland on the polarised reaction to his landmark film
Leaving Neverland has been seen by his many wild-eyed defenders as a jaccuse aimed at the legacy of Michael Jackson. It is not. It is a detailed, four-hour study of the psychology of child sexual abuse, told through two ordinary families who were groomed for 20 years by a paedophile masquerading as a trusted friend. Its a mask that is often used by predators, whether a priest, a teacher, an uncle. This time the man behind the mask just happened to be Michael Jackson.
I had only a foggy idea about all this before starting work on the film. The complex, counter-intuitive and repugnant truths of child sexual abuse that Wade Robson, James Safechuck and their families have courageously unravelled on camera came as a shock to me.
In particular, the repellent but undeniable fact that a powerful attachment often forms between the predator and the child, who experiences the adults sexual advances not as abuse, but quite the opposite: as love. Equally disturbing to any parent is the childs subsequent urge to shelter the abuser from parents or police. This misplaced loyalty often persists into adulthood, even though the adult knows by now that child sexual abuse is a crime. I felt anointed, as Wade puts it.
And then theres the fear of consequences. Michael told me wed go to jail for the rest of our lives, said Wade, describing a conversation that he had at Neverland when he was seven, but was repeated many times. The combined weight of love, shame and fear can lead to a lifetime of silence. The psychological strain of keeping the secret corrodes the soul, resulting in depression, feelings of worthlessness, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts. And the victim doesnt connect these symptoms with the childhood sexual relationship. I am no psychotherapist but this all started to make a dreadful kind of sense to me. As James observed poignantly in a recent interview: Your whole childhood is a lie.
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