Dan Reed — the director and producer behind the controversial new documentary Leaving Neverland, which airs on HBO on March 3 and 4 — spoke with Billboard about what went into telling the stories of Michael Jackson’s accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck and why he thinks this film feeds into the #MeToo movement.
“The film was never about Michael Jackson and I don’t really know that much about Michael Jackson,” Reed tells Billboard, admitting that he didn’t really have any knowledge of or engagement with Jackson’s story prior to working on the documentary.
After hiring a researcher to delve deeper into the story of Jackson’s accusers, a court case surfaced that involved Robson and Safechuck versus the Jackson estate. While Reed did not know if their stories were true at the time, he thought that they might be prepared to go on camera, which could “be the beginning of something.”
Reed explains that Leaving Neverland is in fact a film about Robson and Safechuck and their families “coming to terms with what happened to them as children.” He adds that in telling that story, they are in a position to educate people “about how this kind of grooming child sexual abuse really goes on.”
“If we can begin to tell that bigger story to the world, then it doesn’t matter if it’s Michael Jackson or the priest or the guy next door or the uncle or the beloved family friend that you trusted with your child,” Reed continues. “That is a really great, positive difference that we can make.”
In the interview, the director also discusses being surprised by the positive reaction the film received at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
“We didn’t know how people were gonna react at the end because there were people crying in the audience and there were people mumbling to each other and we had no idea what this all meant,” he says, noting that the standing ovation they received was a “turning point” in both his and the accusers’ lives. “I thought, ‘Wow, people have identified with them. People believe them.’”
Reed also opens up about why he thinks Leaving Neverland feeds into the #MeToo movement, stating that it is about young male victims of sexual assault, and that the film “expands the movement in a good way.”
“Michael was such a big part of the fabric of everyone’s lives and the soundtrack to so many happy memories,” he concludes. “I don’t know how it’s gonna affect people out there.”
You can watch the full video interview above.