LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
A warning to listeners for our next story. It's about the difficult issue of child sexual abuse. "Leaving Neverland," HBO's controversial documentary about Michael Jackson, airs tonight and tomorrow night. In the two-part, four-hour film, two men recount years of alleged sexual abuse by Jackson when they were boys. Jackson's family has denounced the film, and his estate is suing HBO for damages up to $100 million. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has more.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: It begins like two Cinderella stories. James Safechuck was a child actor...
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
JAMES SAFECHUCK: Mr. Jackson?
BLAIR: ...Who landed a Pepsi commercial with Michael Jackson in 1986, when he was 8.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
MICHAEL JACKSON: Looking for me?
BLAIR: Soon, Safechuck was going on tour with Jackson. Wade Robson worshipped the King of Pop. After he won a dance competition when he was 5, Jackson invited him to perform at one of his concerts, as Robson told the host of a kid's TV show.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)
WADE ROBSON: When I saw him, Michael Jackson told me to go on stage with him and dance. Both boys and their moms developed deep friendships with Jackson, staying overnight at his sprawling Neverland Ranch and receiving gifts from the singer. Wade Robson, now 36, says it was like a dream.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LEAVING NEVERLAND")
ROBSON: Out of all the kids in the world, he chose me to be his friend.
BLAIR: Robson and Safechuck both say they loved Michael Jackson. They also claim he sexually molested them for years. Michael Jackson's family says they're lying. Here's his brother, Jackie Jackson, on NBC's "Today."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")
JACKIE JACKSON: And I know my brother. I know he's not like that. That's not Michael Jackson. I know him. He would never, ever do that to any kid or anyone.
BLAIR: In its lawsuit against HBO, the Michael Jackson estate calls "Leaving Neverland" one-sided and a posthumous character assassination. The lawsuit also points out that Wade Robson once testified under oath that Jackson never sexually abused him.
TOM MESEREAU: And he was so strong in his defense of Michael Jackson and so convincing that I called him as my first witness.
BLAIR: Tom Mesereau was Michael Jackson's lead attorney when he was charged with multiple counts of child sexual abuse in 2003. Jackson was acquitted on all counts. Mesereau says he's appalled that Robson is doing an about face, especially since Jackson isn't here to defend himself.
MESEREAU: To see his reputation being sullied like this so many years after not only his acquittal but his death, I find very repulsive.
BLAIR: Wade Robson and James Safechuck allege that when they were kids, Jackson told them to never tell anyone about the sexual nature of their relationships. Dan Reed, the director of "Leaving Neverland," says he hopes viewers will be receptive to their stories.
DAN REED: Otherwise we'll never understand child sexual abuse. And we'll never be able to keep our children safe.
BLAIR: Oprah Winfrey, herself a child sexual abuse survivor, interviewed Reed, Safechuck and Robson for a special that will follow the conclusion of "Leaving Neverland." She says this moment transcends Michael Jackson. If the film gets the audience to see how child sexual abuse happens, she says, then some good will come of it. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.