Oprah wants to open a discussion on the realities and misconceptions of sexual abuse in American culture.
Earlier this week, the documentary Leaving Neverland aired on HBO. The four-hour film, which was aired in two parts, details allegations of sexual abuse against Michael Jackson. It centers around James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who claim they engaged in sexual relationships with the late singer – relations which allegedly happened when they were still underage.
Immediately after the airing of the second part of the film, came Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland, where the host interviewed the accusers, Wade and James, and the film’s director Dan Reed. The special was filmed in front of an audience, mostly made up of sexual abuse survivors as well as prominent figures like CBS News anchor Gayle King, and the #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.
After introducing her onstage guests, she shared her reasons for doing the special. “Here’s the reason why I’m here: In 25 years of The Oprah [Winfrey] Show, I taped 217 episodes on sexual abuse. I tried and tried and tried to get the message across to people that sexual abuse was not just abuse; it was also sexual seduction.”
“After I saw Leaving Neverland for the first time, I called up Dan Reed—I didn’t know Dan Reed—and told him, ‘Dan,’ I said, ‘You were able to illustrate in these four hours what I tried to explain in 217,’” Oprah continued. “And I know people all over the world are gonna be in an uproar and debating whether or not Michael Jackson did these things or not, whether these two men are lying or not lying, but for me this moment transcends Michael Jackson. It is much bigger than any one person. This is a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption. It’s like a scourge on humanity.”
During the course of the interview, Oprah asked James and Wade about things like the nature of the abuse they say they suffered; why they didn’t speak up sooner; and whether they continue to blame their parents for allowing them to be in the situation. She also opened up about her own experience with sexual abuse.
Oprah also tackled the issue of both of their credibility. When Michael Jackson faced similar allegations in the past, both men have spoken in defense of the singer during the trials – both James and Wade in 1993, and Wade again in 2005.
Both men opened up about how they did not come to think of what was happening as abuse and how they were groomed to protect the secret.
“I had no understanding of it being abuse. I loved Michael. And all the times that I testified, and the many, many times that I gushed over him publicly in interviews… that was from a real place,” Wade recalled.
“From night one of the abuse, of the sexual stuff that Michael did to me, he told me it was it love. He told me that he loved me and that God brought us together,” he said. “I was a little boy… Michael was a god to me. And now, [the man] who is god to me is telling me, ‘I love you. God brought us together. And this is how we show our love.'”
“Anything that Michael did was right to me, for so many years,” he added
“Michael had just drilled in you over and over, since you were a kid, ‘If you caught, if we’re caught, your life is over. My life is over.’ It was repeated over and over and over again. It’s just drilled into your nervous system,” James told Oprah. He also shared that the particular mantra caused him to panic whenever he was presented with the opportunity to come forward and share his story.
“Michael trained me and forced me to tell the lie for so many years, and particularly on the stand,” Wade said. “And those were really traumatizing experiences for me that had a huge impact on the rest of my life. So the feeling was, I want an opportunity to reprocess that experience. I want to get on the stand again, because now I’m able to tell the truth.”
“I have said for years that if the abuser is any good, you won’t know it’s happened,” Oprah said at one point. “If the abuser is any good, he or she is going to make you feel like you’re part of it.”
The interview also revealed that along with their resolve to speak out, there was guilt.
“I felt guilt this weekend, like I let him down,” James told Oprah. “It’s still there, that shadow is still there.”
When the documentary debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah and quickly sparked intense reactions from viewers. Following the airing of the first part of the documentary, stars and fans alike have gone on Twitter to share mixed reactions on what they have watched – some in shock at the allegations, some sympathizing with the accusers and others defending the King of Pop.
Michael Jackson’s estate has previously issued a statement slamming the documentary.
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the statement read. “Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception,’ filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.”
“This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations,” the statement continued. “It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
They also filed a lawsuit against HBO for $100 Million, claiming that the documentary violates a non-disparagement clause in a 1992 contract HBO had with with Michael, ET reports.
Oprah pretty much knew she could face some backlash for her decision to do the interview – after all, the King of Pop had legions of superfans. “I’m gonna get it,” she said with a laugh toward the end of the special. “We all gon’ get it, we gon’ get it, we gon’ get it.”