Leaving Neverland, the controversial Michael Jackson documentary that premiered at last month’s Sundance Film Festival—where it shocked moviegoers and enraged the singer’s estate—will debut on HBO on March 3 and 4, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The four-hour film features extensive interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who befriended the late singer when they were children. In Leaving Neverland, both men allege, often with great detail, that Jackson sexually abused them over a series of years.
At Sundance, where the movie inspired at least one pro-Jackson protest, critics described Leaving Neverland as “devastating” (Variety), “gruesome” (IndieWire), and “enraging” (The Boston Globe). Many audience members were equally disturbed. “By the end of [one] screening,” noted Rolling Stone, “the crowd looked completely shellshocked.”
Leaving Neverland was embroiled in controversy before its debut. Protesters threatened to disrupt its Sundance premiere (though few actually showed up). Bomb-sniffing dogs were spotted at one festival screening, and Sundance provided health-care workers in a theater lobby, in case the film’s subject material proved too upsetting for attendees.
In response to the film, Jackson’s estate released a statement to Rolling Stone, decrying Leaving Neverland as “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death. The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact.”
The official Twitter account for Jackson also took aim at the documentary, tweeting last month that HBO, which aired a hit Jackson special in 1992, was [giving] a voice to admitted liars.”
Jackson, who died in 2009 at the age of 50, remains a formidable money-maker. In 2017, his estate earned a reported $75 million, thanks to album sales, licensing, and TV special, among other ventures. Singles such as “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Smooth Criminal” have each earned more than 100 million streams on Spotify.
But a high-visible doc likes Leaving Neverland threatens to, at the very least, prompt a re-evaluation of the singer’s life. “It only takes about two minutes into the four-hour documentary,” noted The Guardian, “to realize that Michael Jackson’s legacy is never going to be the same again.”