When HBO’s documentary detailing allegations of sexual abuse of children against Michael Jackson premiered at Sundance last month, mental health professionals were on hand to help viewers process what they saw. For the documentary’s premiere on TV, that role will be handled by Oprah Winfrey.
Before an audience of sexual abuse survivors, Oprah will lead a discussion with the two subjects of Leaving Neverland, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege that Jackson abused them when they were children. The interview will air simultaneously on HBO and Oprah’s TV network, OWN, on March 4 immediately following the conclusion of the two-part documentary.
“Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 40, and Robson, now 36, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, ‘Leaving Neverland’ presents their accounts of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of their own,” HBO said.
Jackson, who died in 2009, was first accused of sexually molesting a minor in 1993. The music legend denied the claims and settled the case out of court. In 2005, he was found not guilty of molesting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo in a trial that garnered wall-to-wall media attention throughout the world. During the trial, Robson testified that Jackson did not molest him. In 2013, he and Safechuck filed a lawsuit against Jackson’s estate that the star in fact did molest them both, though the suit was dismissed in 2017.
A multitude of critics have hailed Leaving Neverland as a devastating portrait of abuse, arguing that Safechuck and Robson’s allegations against Jackson are extremely convincing. Jackson’s family has repeatedly denied the claims, calling the documentary “a public lynching.” They sued HBO and its parent company, Time Warner, for breaching an old non-disparagement contract the network had with Jackson stemming from a 1992 concert HBO aired.
Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed told Rolling Stone in January that his documentary is less about Jackson, and more about the lives of the alleged survivors. “This is not a story about Michael Jackson. It’s a story about child sexual abuse that happened to two families whose lives intersected with Jackson. The fact that the abuser is Michael Jackson gives the film a reach and a relevance that I welcome. But it’s a story of grooming and pedophilia.”
Oprah’s interview with Jackson in 1993 remains the most-watched live TV interview in American history. It was an exceedingly rare window into Jackson, who had only agreed to one other interview in the 15 years prior. That interview was a huge part of Jackson’s legacy; Oprah’s interview with his two accusers 27 years later could be the one that destroys it.