Leaving Neverland, a documentary film about accusations of sexual abuse against Michael Jackson, aired in two parts (Sunday and Monday) on HBO. The film was not an effort to present two sides of the abuse allegations. Instead, the director focused on two accusers who had denied abuse for years, men who had testified in defense of Jackson when he was sued by another accuser. We know there were at least five accusers and there was at least one if not more payoffs without admissions of guilt, but this documentary addressed the accounts of just two men.
The documentary release and another program about the accusations hosted by Oprah led to a social media furor of condemnation directed toward HBO, the director, the accusers and Oprah. Jackson has many fans who are certain that he couldn't possibly have been guilty and that the entire story is a defamatory smear motivated by greed on the part of everyone involved. The critics point to Jackson's acquittal in a criminal trial, the shady history of one accuser's mother, the unreliability of Jackson employees who came forward to accuse Jackson and Jackson's gentleness and many acts of kindness and generosity as overwhelming evidence of his innocence.
Jackson's defenders also attack the accusers' parents for their lack of protectiveness in accepting his friendship and financial largess seemingly in exchange for allowing their children to room alone with Jackson, as if that exonerates Jackson. Clearly, the families had problems. This isn't hidden from view in the documentary. Healthy families with strong parents are better at protecting their children. They can't succeed 100%, but it's no surprise that Jackson could take over the lives of children growing up in troubled families. I have little doubt that there were other families, stronger and more intact, who rebuffed Jackson's attempts to woo their children.
I would generally encourage you to watch the documentary, though cautiously or perhaps not if you're an abuse victim. If you watch, I suggest that you think about an aspect of this story that hasn't received adequate attention.
Even if you reject claims of sexual abuse, it is undeniable that Michael Jackson repeatedly plucked very cute prepubescent boys (as young as age 7) from obscurity, made them his all-consuming obsessions, showered them with gifts & special attention, totally taking over their lives, only to abruptly dump each one for a new shiny cute kid.
Jackson's defenders say that Michael innocently loved children. This wasn't Jackson loving children. He was using children as emotional lifelines without regard for their needs or their well-being.
Some who protest Jackson's innocence dismiss the sex abuse claims as the complaints of children upset because they were dumped by Jackson, as if they can be dismissed because they're just children scorned. That's a warped view of appropriate relations between adults and children. An adult who makes a child feel like a scorned lover by sweeping him off his feet to serve his own needs then dumping that child when a replacement is found is a child user & abuser.
You don't have to agree that Jackson sexually abused children to see the abundance of evidence that he was a deeply disturbed man who emotionally exploited vulnerable children. And the possibility that Jackson's emotionally abusive behavior arose from his own abuse as a child doesn't make him any less of an abuser as an adult. Nor does Jackson's philanthropy and kindness make his emotional abuse of individual children less abusive. In fact, this is consistent with how abusers often think about their exploitation of children, characterizing it as love instead of exploitation.
Jackson didn't love these children. He was obsessed with these kids, one at a time, trading them in when they reached puberty or when he found another kid who caught his fancy. In Leaving Neverland, we hear Jackson's creepy obsessions in his phone messages, we see it in his gifts, his photos, his faxes and love letters to these kids. The evidence of obsession is undeniable. And it is also clear that he would abruptly dump these children when he found a new child-object of obsession.
All of that said, as someone who has professionally evaluated abusers and victims, the accusers' stories of sexual abuse & the corroborating accounts of family members were extremely compelling. I believe that the accusers were sexually abused by Jackson. If you can't accept that, at least consider the overwhelming evidence of emotional abuse.
Based on many indicators in his public behavior, and in the revelations supported by contemporaneous evidence presented in the documentary, it's safe to say that Jackson was a sick man, He did many good things for kids, but he also did serious harm to some children.