Holding signs that read “Seek Truth” and “Innocent,” about 20-25 protestors converged outside Park City’s Egyptian Theatre for the Sundance premiere of the Michael Jackson molestation doc Leaving Neverland. The film rode into the indie film festival amid a wave of controversy given the on-camera claims made by two men — Wade Robson and James Safechuck — who say they were sexually abused by the late pop star when they were children.
Only two elderly female protesters were on hand before the four-hour film started, but by the intermission, another 20 had arrived, some traveling from as far as Canada to show their support for Jackson and his legacy. Aaron Madsen came for the day from Salt Lake City and said that he and his fellow protestors were there peacefully and weren’t looking for trouble despite the sizable police presence.
“Sundance is propping up a gaggle of purgerers and liars,” Madsen told The Hollywood Reporter. “Michael Jackson was found not guilty in a court of law.”
Before the Dan Reed-directed film got under way, festival director John Cooper told audience members that the depictions could be extremely upsetting. “We have health care professionals here in the lobby from the state of Utah,” Cooper said.
A veil of secrecy has surrounded the film, which will air on HBO. Using mostly one-on-one interviews with the two accusers, Reed goes into forensic level detail on the relationship the two boys had with the King of Pop at the height of his fame and how they were kept apart from their parents for long stretches. Robson, who went on to a successful career as a choreographer, testified on behalf of the singer at his 2005 trial in Santa Maria, Calif., where Jackson stood trial for molesting another teen. The movie delves into the regret he later felt for making the decision. Robson said he was molested by Jackson from the ages of 7 to 14. Safechuck’s claims followed an eerily similar arc. In the film, both men go into graphic detail about what happened in Jackson’s bed.
Despite the protestors outside, Robson and Safechuck took to the stage with Reed after the film amid a standing ovation. Both men choked back tears as they recounted why they decided to participate in the documentary, despite receiving death threats. “[The reason] was just to tell the truth and shine a light on it.”
When asked what he would say to the protestors and other supporters of Jackson, Robson told the audience: “I don’t feel like I need to say anything to them,” which received thunderous applause. He added: “I understand he’s hard to hate.”
Sources say that the Michael Jackson estate didn’t try to stop the screening or threaten any legal action before the film made its world premiere on Friday.
Attendees were required to open their coats and bags and have their bodies checked by a metal-detecting wand, while police dogs remained in the venue throughout the screening.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.