After Sundance, many of you emailed for commentary about Leaving Neverland, the new documentary directed by Dan Reed that “explores the separate but parallel experiences of James ‘Jimmy’ Safechuck and Wade Robson” with Michael Jackson, alleging that he sexually abused them as children. I’ve not written about it because I’ve not seen it yet. The doc is four hours, split into two parts, airing on HBO this weekend – the first two hours on Sunday, the final two hours on Monday, and it’s probably going to be a big headline next week. 

The Michael Jackson estate has filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, has denounced the documentary, calling it a “posthumous lynching”. Members of the Jackson family spoke to Rolling Stone this week to dispute the claims. Jackie, Marlon, Tito, and nephew Taj also spoke to Gayle King and defended Michael on CBS This Morning. So there has been significant effort to discredit the documentary. Interestingly enough, however, it was announced yesterday that Oprah will be hosting a one hour special airing immediately after Leaving Neverland on Monday night on HBO and OWN. OPRAH WINFREY PRESENTS: AFTER NEVERLAND will feature director Dan Reed, Wade Robson, and Jimmy Safechuck, according to the official press release it was “taped before an audience of survivors of sexual abuse and others whose lives have been impacted by it”. 

We’re all familiar with the Oprah Effect. Oprah knows the Oprah Effect – that her involvement with something, be it a product or book or a story, can legitimise it. The fact that she’s hosting this special that will be simulcast on OWN and HBO, the very network the Michael Jackson estate is suing, is huge. Of course she will try to be impartial. Of course she will likely mention that the Jackson family vigorously rejects Wade and Jimmy’s claims. But I also can’t see her, in a room full of sexual abuse survivors, attacking those claims the way the estate would want her to. My thinking right now is that the fact that this one hour special even exists can be read as an endorsement of the documentary. That may change after viewing but I have a hard time believing she’s going to show up on HBO, facing a $100 million lawsuit, and give them any reason to worry that they’ll lose the case. 

According to Variety:

Oprah Winfrey knows that she’s courting controversy with her new special “After Neverland,” an interview with two men who have accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them when they were young boys.

“I’m gonna get it,” the talk show host predicted during a taping of the broadcast on Wednesday at the New York Times Center. But, Winfrey argued, the issue of sexual abuse is too important to remain silent no matter how much her program angers the “gloved one’s” fans.

“This movie transcends Michael Jackson,” she told an audience of more than 100 abuse survivors. “It allows us to see societal corruption.”

“Beware of people who just want to be around your children,” Winfrey added at another point during the hour-and-a-half long taping.

Doesn’t sound like Oprah’s going to be coming out on the side of Michael Jackson, does it? More on Leaving Neverland next week, once we’ve all had a chance to see it.