Almost 10 years have elapsed since Michael Jackson died, and his niece Brandi Jackson says it’s time to let him rest in peace. “My uncle endured investigations, trials and humiliation, and he was found not guilty,” says the 37-year-old photographer. “The public likes to hold onto this narrative that he was sleeping with little boys and it’s weird, but that’s really not the narrative. My uncle never could have done these horrible things.”
From her perspective, the allegations that have been leveled against Michael Jackson since the early 1990s are racially motivated. “When you look at the entire situation, and you start to break it down, it’s because he was a strong, influential black man,” she says.
Brandi, the daughter of Jackie Jackson, the oldest brother of the Jackson 5, spoke to Billboard about her nearly 10-year relationship with Wade Robson, one of the two central figures interviewed in Dan Reed’s Leaving Neverland. The four-plus hour documentary, which premiered on HBO in March, features the accounts of Robson, 36, a noted pop choreographer, and James Safechuck, 40, who works at a digital advertising agency, who allege that Jackson sexually abused them for years when they were children. Robson claims his molestation began at age 7. Safechuck says he was 10 years old.
Both Robson and Safechuck assert that Jackson attempted to draw them closer to him by turning them against their parents and sowing distrust in women. Brandi does not believe her uncle sexually abused anyone, and strongly disputes Robson’s account because, she says, she had a more than seven-year relationship with him and often was with Robson at Neverland where and when he claims the abuse was taking place.
In 1993, Robson and Safechuck both told investigators that Jackson had never sexually abused them for a case involving another boy, Jordan Chandler. (Jackson settled the case by reportedly paying Chandler and his family $22 million.) In 2005, Robson, 22 years old at the time, was also a witness for Jackson’s defense team in another sexual abuse case in which the pop singer was acquitted of all charges. Robson and Safechuck did not come forward with their respective stories about Jackson’s alleged abuse untll after the pop star’s 2009 death due to a cocktail of drugs that his doctor had administered to help the pop star sleep. In 2013 and 2014, respectively, they sued the estate. (Both suits were dismissed and are being appealed.)
“People are jumping on this bandwagon and they are very mean and nasty. They are selling this story and people are buying it. And then you got the media jumping on their same side,” Brandi says of Leaving Neverland. “I’m happy to speak out.”
You are 37 now. You were very young when the first allegations hit. Do you remember growing up and hearing about the abuse? How did it affect you?
I remember being in the fifth grade when the 1993 allegations came out. I was so confused and was like, “What? Who are they talking about?” because that was not my uncle. It was plastered everywhere. By the time I went back to school the next day, it was the joke of the school. Parents were saying things. People were so mean and so inappropriate. As a child in the fifth grade, I didn’t understand the logistics of it all, but I knew how uncomfortable it was [for me] and how wrong people were to jump to such a conclusion. I can only imagine how it is for [Michael’s] kids right now. They are at that age where they are still interacting with that younger generation, and that generation is cruel. Actually, it’s not just that generation. People are mean. That’s it.
Was there ever a point where you questioned whether there was something to the allegations?
No. There has never been a question. Michael could not hurt anyone, especially a child. If you told me he stole somebody’s publishing, I wouldn’t believe it because he’s not a thief, but I would believe, yeah, he got that man’s publishing some kind of way. When you talk about harming someone, especially a child — absolutely not. Anybody who has ever met him can tell you, he is not this evil person that they say he is.
Tell me about your relationship with Wade Robson. Michael introduced you two, and you dated for some time?
Wade and I met in approximately 1991. We had done the LA Gear photoshoot and the “Black or White” video with my Uncle Michael. After getting to know each other on set, Wade had developed a crush on me and my uncle invited Wade’s family, as well as myself and my brother to Neverland and we spent five to seven days there. On that trip, Wade asked me to be his girlfriend. I was 9 or 10 years old, and our relationship went on for more than seven years. We didn’t live far from each other so we were able to spend a lot of time together. I used to go with him to his dance classes. We went to the movies a lot. We would ride bikes all day. One of our favorite things to do was play in the fountain in front of his apartment building in the summer. He used to write me random songs, some of which I still have. We literally grew up together. (Robson’s attorney Vince William Finaldi would not directly address Brandi Jackson’s account of her relationship with Robson but, via email, wrote: “Ms. Jackson was not with Wade and Michael Jackson when the sexual abuse occurred, and as such, she has nothing relevant to say about the topic.”
During that time, did Wade ever say anything to you about Michael and sexual abuse?
Never. The only thing he said was how blessed he was to have Michael as a business partner and a friend. I have to tell you something else: Wade gives this narrative that he and Michael were always together. They weren’t. We used to go to the ranch, Wade and I and his family. We would go a few times a month. My uncle was never there. He was always on the road working and traveling.
How does it feel to watch Wade now tell the story he is telling?
It makes me upset to see how he has changed throughout the years. We still work in the same industry, so I remember learning about his depression and his breakdown with his financial situation and having difficulty finding work. I remember hearing all of these stories and I felt bad for him in a way, but life is hard and people bounce back. It’s disappointing and very upsetting to see what he would do to a friend.
For the 1993 case, we used to talk about how ridiculous it was. We knew the motivation of the family who had initiated this, the Chandler family, and although we were young, we had a good grasp as to what the situation was. Wade was adamant about standing up for [Michael]. He said, “I’ll make sure nobody does this because it’s not right. That’s not who Michael is.” He was very defensive of him because he understood.
He never gave you any reason to question Michael?
Not at all. He felt the same way I did about my uncle. There was never any inappropriate behavior. For anyone to even suspect anything — you know how sometimes there is something weird and you think, “Well, I don’t know.” It wasn’t anything like that. I understand sometimes the public likes to hold onto this narrative of my uncle sleeping with little boys and it’s weird, but that’s really not the narrative. That’s not the way it was. He gets this rap that he’s this really weird person, and he was not. He was a very normal man.
Do you believe that you can separate an artist from his art?
That’s a tough one. I think, in a situation where it has been proven that somebody has done things that are atrocious — let’s say my uncle was found guilty or that there was evidence that suggested he was guilty — then I understand not wanting to promote him. But when somebody is quite arguably the most targeted person in the world, as well as the most kind, giving and gentle person in the world — and found not guilty on many charges after a more than 10-year investigation — I think people are wrong to try to mute that artist because of what [people] are saying it’s an injustice. I’m not here to judge anyone, but you know, they didn’t do this thing to Elvis Presley, who was known to date underage women. They criticize Woody Allen, but they still play his movies.
Why do you think that is?
I hate to pull a race card, but when you look at the entire situation, and you start to break it down, it’s because he was a strong, influential black man. He stood proud. He owned a lot. He was very powerful. They didn’t want that. I don’t like to make things about race, but that’s honestly what it looks like. You put the cards on the table and that’s what it is. It’s a double standard.
Did you ever talk to Michael about these court cases?
No, not specifically about these court cases. He spoke openly to us about how he felt going through them, and that he wasn’t going to let anyone tarnish his name like that. He always told us he was going to continue to fight. It hurt him to have people say he did this stuff to children. Somebody could have said he did anything else, but to try to say that he would hurt a child, was the most hurtful thing that could ever be said about him. I know he spoke with my father a lot about how he felt, but wasn’t asking, “Why would they do this to me?” He knew what it was about and where it was coming from. It was just sad to him they would chose such a horrible thing to say: that he would hurt a child. He was such a special man. Sad is the best word I could use to tell you how it felt to see this being done to him. Even as a child, I knew this wasn’t right.
Did he ever think not to be around children because of all the allegations?
No, it was quite the opposite. He was adamant about not changing who he was. He didn’t want to stop being good to people because of these allegations. And he would teach us the same thing. He would say, “If you know you are doing good and your heart is pure, you have to keep going. Don’t let them stop you. Don’t let them take that from you. Don’t ever let anybody change you because they are afraid of who you are.” I’m happy that he stayed doing what he was doing, because he helped so many people, so many children, adults of all walks of life. He instilled that in all of us. For that reason, I’m happy that he didn’t change. He would have been a miserable man if he stopped doing good for other people.