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'Leaving Neverland' director: Doco shouldn't stop Jackson's music

Dan Reed, director of Leaving Neverland Photo: Dominique Desrue

Michael Jackson was clever and succeeding in convincing children they were not being abused, the director of the Leaving Neverland documentary about the abuse has told RNZ. 

The programme being broadcast on TVNZ 1 interviews Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who describe being befriended, groomed and abused by Jackson.

In separate but parallel stories, Safechuck at age 10 and Robson at age seven were each befriended by Jackson when he was at the height of his fame.

Director Dan Reed told Sunday Afternoon's Jim Mora the aim of the documentary was to explain how paedophiles work and how they manipulate their victims into concealing the abuse.

He said Jackson was very persuasive.

"The little boys being abused by Michael didn't feel that they were being harmed or abused. They felt - you know, they'd been seduced so they felt just like adults feel in a relationship. 

"He was kind and the kindness that he displayed I think sort of still resonates and you know the magnitude of his fame, his personality, his charisma, and I think they're still struggling with what to make of that."

He said it was this persuasiveness that meant Robson supported Jackson in a trial against him in 2005. 

"He still loved Michael Jackson in 2005. He was 22, he still felt an immense amount of loyalty to the man who had nurtured his talents, who had done all these wonderful things for him sadly with the aim of sexually abusing him. 

"He says that he wished that he'd had the strength to say the truth on the witness stand ... it would have involved turning his life upside down. 

He said the entire foundation of Robson's life and his family's life hinged on the relationship with Michael.

"To suddenly get up on the witness stand and say ... he was actually a monster who raped me, that was beyond Wade's strength at the time."

Watch the Leaving Neverland trailer:

He said it wasn't until Robson became a father himself that he had a change of perspective. 

"He describes this transformative moment in the film he looks at this defenceless, vulnerable little being and begins to imagine Michael doing to this little boy what he'd done to little Wade at the age of seven. 

"I think that drove him to mention this to his psychotherapist and that's the beginning of his awakening. Now he is completely unambiguous about what happened." 

'People who enabled everything he did'

Reed said he believes Jackson's staff and family enabled his abuse over many years.

"The Jackson organisation and the Jackson camp, they've always portrayed Michael as the victim and they've always slimed and smeared the children who came forward - there's been at least five so far. 

"So, it feels almost like heresy to challenge him in any way." 

He said the fact the Jackson Foundation, which is suing over the film, has clung so closely to the disparity between Robson's testimony and his statements in the film is shocking. 

"What they're saying presumably, and I can't believe this is what they mean, they're saying 'look, Wade is a perjurer ... they're saying that in reality he lied on the witness stand.

"We know that he was defending Michael - then they must be saying that Michael was a pedophile." 

"There's stacks and stacks and stacks of evidence and the family themselves don't deny that this man was spending night after night after night with little boys." 

"Jackson was surrounded by people who enabled everything he did. There was members of his staff who are on the record as having warned newcomers to the estate 'never leave your child alone with Michael' and that's on the record."  

Michael Jackson entering the Santa Barbara County Superior Court to hear the verdict read in his child molestation case, June 13, 2005. Kevork Djansezian-Pool/Getty Images

'It was important firstly to confront people with what it really means'

Reed said many fans of Jackson's music closed their eyes to the stories being told by the children, and it was important for the film to accurately portray abuse. 

"You have to be careful for putting anything like that on television: it can backfire, it can disgust people or it can feel exploitative.

"I do think it was important firstly to confront people with what it really means - what this very serious crime actually involves against children, and secondly to draw a line between the image that Jackson portrayed of himself as this man who'd never had a childhood and had this innocent love for children.

"We needed people to understand that this was sex - it was the kind of sex that grownups have - and you need to describe it in some detail." 

However, he said he was not advocating for people to stop playing Jackson's music, as was done on some New Zealand radio stations

"It's hard for people because Michael was so talented and such a huge figure ... his songs are almost a part of the fabric of our culture. 

"Blind devotion for Michael makes people disbelieve these - essentially, children - who have been terribly hurt. People ask 'why should we believe them'. Why should we disbelieve them?"

He said people had to make those choices about Jackson's music on their own. 

"Great artists are often tormented, strange people and I guess their isolation from society gives them a different perspective.

"I'm not a book burner by heart, I'm not saying we should never again play the music of Michael Jackson - I think that would be foolish and inappropriate ... it's really a film about these two families coming to terms with what their sons tell them really happened. 

"Michael had been abused himself and certainly because he was lying about all these terrible acts he was committing with children, that's a very corrosive thing to hide in your soul and I think it would have eaten away at him. 

He said what he set out to do was to reveal a poorly understood truth about  the psychology of child sexual abuse. 

"It's scary, it's big, people's reactions are very intense, sometimes even violent. 

"I cling to the fact that we've made something that will educate people and open a lot of people's eyes and enable people to understand the stories of survivors of child sexual abuse. 

"That's important. If more people understood it there'd be less opportunity for predators to do their thing." 

This article was first published as part of Radio NZ's Sunday Morning programme.

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