COMMENT

I've been a Michael Jackson fan for pretty much my whole life.

My flatmates and I took the day off and spent a full day in mourning when he died, watching his old videos in our MJ merchandise, singing and crying.

I know all his hits, I own a few of his records, I've always listened to him through every stage of my life.

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I've also known about the child molestation and abuse allegations against him for years.
And I also - somehow - was able to ignore them.

Until now.

For a long time I refused to believe the allegations quite simply because MJ was my hero.

#MeToo, this current wave of feminism, and pure life experience hadn't yet opened my eyes to usual defences like "they just want his money", hadn't yet taught me that these people who I thought would never risk doing something that could make them lose everything, also had more than enough to get away with it.

And then as the years passed I just sort of... forgot about it.

But then Leaving Neverland hit Sundance and subsequently, the headlines. And now I know why: Part one of Dan Reed's two-part documentary series, changes everything.

I've always been of the mindset that there is no reason to depict sexual assault in such graphic detail as Leaving Neverland does.

But in this instance, I think it's necessary because after all these years, hearing that horrifying detail and hearing it straight from the victims and their families, is what it took to wake me the hell up to what a monster Michael Jackson truly was.

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It took these men reliving their pain, their broken families speaking about how he tore them apart from the inside, seeing the way they still seem to love him despite everything - all of that to make me realise the allegations were more than just Hollywood headlines and Michael Jackson was not simply a pop icon.

He was a man. A man with power. Power which he so clearly abused.

Michael Jackson had fame, power and loyal fans behind him. Photo / Getty Images
Michael Jackson had fame, power and loyal fans behind him. Photo / Getty Images

Hearing about how he methodically embedded himself so firmly in these boys' families is terrifying. The way he slowly groomed not just the boys to be close to him, but their parents to allow it.

In part one of the docuseries, Reed documents how it all started; from first meetings, to Jackson using his star power to win the boys over, to getting more and more personal, to the point where the parents trusted him to not only be alone with their children but, remarkably, to share his bed.

He convinced them all that he was "just a boy" on the inside - this "Peter Pan" syndrome loyal fans will argue he suffered from.

James Safechuck's mother even said she began to think of Jackson as one of her own sons; she did his laundry and essentially facilitated playdates.

I've often wondered if there is a mental illness defence in Jackson's favour. It's widely known he himself was abused as a child, and if he never mentally progressed to adulthood and abuse was what he understood love to be, then maybe that explains his actions?

Jackson's childlike persona earned him much sympathy. Photo / Getty Images
Jackson's childlike persona earned him much sympathy. Photo / Getty Images

But what it doesn't explain is how both Safechuck and Wade Robson spoke about the great lengths Jackson went to to ensure they stayed silent - routinely drilling the message into them that they had to keep their special secret or they would be pulled apart and they would all be sent to jail forever.

No, this was a grown man who knew the difference between right and wrong and did wrong anyway.

Perhaps what is most striking about this documentary is the end of part one, when we see the way Jackson - again, so methodically - replaced these boys with new ones.

Robson and his mother moved to LA at Jackson's request. They thought they'd get the usual star's welcome, but instead they were hung out to dry. Why? Because Jackson had a new friend; Macaulay Culkin. And after that, Brett Barnes.

It was, according to the documentary, a new boy every 12 months.

And with the "old" boys, Jackson cast them out and stoked their jealousy to a point where they wanted to have sex with him again because they craved that validation, to feel "special", to be "his favourite" again.

And when the curtain was pulled all the way back and these boys and their families crashed back to earth, they realised Jackson had so expertly isolated them from their normal lives that they had no one left to confide in.

When you hear it all laid out like this it's textbook abuser behaviour and from the sounds of it, Jackson was an expert in it.

But you want to know the most terrifying part of the whole thing?

There's still two more hours' worth of footage to come.

Leaving Neverland is available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand and part two will air Monday night, 8.30pm on TVNZ 1.