×

‘After Neverland’: Inside the Taping of Oprah Winfrey’s Look at Michael Jackson Abuse Allegations

Oprah Winfrey knows that she’s courting controversy with her new special “After Neverland,” an interview with two men who have accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them when they were young boys.

“I’m gonna get it,” the talk show host predicted during a taping of the broadcast on Wednesday at the New York Times Center. But, Winfrey argued, the issue of sexual abuse is too important to remain silent no matter how much her program angers the “gloved one’s” fans.

“This movie transcends Michael Jackson,” she told an audience of more than 100 abuse survivors. “It allows us to see societal corruption.”

“Beware of people who just want to be around your children,” Winfrey added at another point during the hour-and-a-half long taping.

The program will air on March 4 after the second and final episode of the upcoming HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” a four-hour investigation into the claims of Jackson accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Winfrey was joined on stage by the two men and by director Dan Reed for a talk that mixed moments of uplift with tears, stories of horror, and a series of final cathartic hugs.

Winfrey made it clear that she finds the men’s allegations credible, but the Jackson estate has pushed back aggressively against Robson and Safechuck, dismissing them as “opportunists” and “perjurers.” Before going public with his abuse claims in 2013, Robson was one of Jackson’s most vociferous defenders, denying the pop star had ever behaved inappropriately and serving as a key defense witness in Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial. Safechuck testified that he was never abused as part of the singer’s 1993 molestation trial, but declined to testify on his behalf in the follow-up trial. Both men say they were groomed by Jackson to stay quiet — he repeatedly told them that their lives would be ruined if they broke their silence.

“He told me it was love,” said Robson. “He told me God brought us together.”

Jackson’s supporters say Robson and Safechuck are trying to get rich. They cite as evidence the fact that the men’s lawsuits seeking damages from the estate were dismissed because of statutes of limitations issues. They denied to Winfrey that they were seeking financial gain, with Reed adding that the men are not being compensated for their involvement in the documentary. Reed also addressed criticism that his film is one-sided and fails to include interviews with friends and colleagues of Jackson.

“It’s not about Jackson,” he said. “It’s about what happened to Wade and James.”

Reed also noted that there are some points that Jackson’s supporters do not contest, namely Jackson’s penchant for sharing a bedroom with children. “It’s beyond doubt that Jackson spent the night with many young boys,” he said, adding, “”What is at issue here is what happened when the bedroom door closed and the lights went out.”

Leaving Neverland” isn’t just about Jackson’s alleged crimes, Reed said. It’s interested in documenting the ways that sexual predators groom young boys. In the case of Jackson, the pop singer’s celebrity and wealth allowed him to attract families with young children and to deflect their questions when he spent an inordinate amount of time with their kids. At the time of the alleged assaults, Jackson was one of the top acts in music, a money-maker who was never without an entourage of handlers and servants. Winfrey and others expressed disbelief that no one else knew what was going on.

“It was very rare that Michael was alone,” Robson noted.

Both Robson and Safechuck said it took them years to come to grips with what happened to them as children. Robson suffered two nervous breakdowns and Safechuck had insomnia and depression. And yet their feelings toward Jackson are complicated. They still admire his music and Safechuck, who seemed to be the more vulnerable of the two men, still grapples with guilt after going public with his claims.

The documentary has thrust the two men and their families back into the public spotlight. They’ve not only had to contend with a combative Jackson Estate and angry fans of the singer — Robson has received death threats. However, Robson and Safechuck were warmly received by an audience that had suffered similar traumas. It was a crowd that included “ER” star Anthony Edwards, who has accused writer/producer Gary Goddard of molesting him, and former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Al Chesley, another abuse survivor, as well as “CBS This Morning” host and Oprah BFF Gayle King.

Robson expressed surprise at the audience response. “I’d never witnessed public support before,” he offered. “I expected to be bushwhacked and mowed over.”

As for Safechuck, he’s still grappling with the aftershocks of the abuse he claims he suffered.

“This moment will end and I’ll still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

More Film

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

  • 'Cats' Teaser Trailer: See Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift Unveils Feline Moves in 'Cats' Behind-the-Scenes Teaser

    Taylor Swift fans finally get to see some of the results of all those years spent studying her roommates Meredith and Olivia — and also, not incidentally, some time with a choreographer — in a new behind-the-scenes teaser for the movie “Cats.” The three-and-a-half-minute featurette has footage of Swift striking crouching feline moves as well [...]

  • CGR’s Immersive Premium Format Set for

    Immersive Theater Technology Set for US Debut in Los Angeles

    French multiplex company CGR Cinemas has selected the Regal LA Live as the first U.S. theater to use its Immersive Cinema Experience technology. The ICE format will be unveiled in the fall at the downtown location in a partnership between CGR and AEG. The companies made the announcement Wednesday but did not reveal which title [...]

  • Amazon Developing Original Series Based on

    Amazon Studios Buys 'Selah and the Spades,' Will Develop Original Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to “Selah and the Spades,” a gripping look at a prep school drug dealer, Variety has learned. The film marks the feature debut of writer and director Tayarisha Poe and had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was a favorite with critics. Amazon has [...]

  • The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con

    The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con Parties and Activations

    Hollywood is heading down the California coast to San Diego because It’s time for 2019 Comic-Con International. The annual cosplay celebration officially kicks off tomorrow, July 18, with a preview happening tonight. Here, Variety gives you a guide to this year’s parties and activations. Make sure to check back for updates. Wednesday, July 17Amazon Prime [...]

  • The Wound African Cinema Berlin Film

    Finance Forum Brings African WIP Into Focus at Durban FilmMart

    The 10th edition of the Durban FilmMart, which unspools parallel to the 40th Durban Intl. Film Festival, will feature 10 fiction and 10 documentary works-in-progress taking part in its annual Finance Forum. The leading co-production market on the continent, the Forum brings together producers, distributors, sales agents, broadcasters, funding bodies, and other industry players from across the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content