In the two-part HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, Wade Robson and James Safechuck accuse pop star Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them while they were children. (He was not charged with any crimes related to Robson or Safechuck, and was acquitted of molestation charges related to another accuser in 2005, per The New York Times.) Jackson had well-documented friendships with many children, not just the documentary subjects. Actor Macaulay Culkin comes up in the doc because of his relationship with the late icon. Though he's not interviewed in the film, a card at the end of Part I reminds viewers that the actor has never alleged that Jackson abused him. Macaulay Culkin recently commented about Michael Jackson elsewhere, acknowledging that he's still questioned about the nature of their friendship.
In early January, Culkin appeared as a guest on the podcast “Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum,” per USA Today, and addressed public perception of his friendship with Jackson. "It's almost easy to try say it was 'weird' or whatever, but it wasn't, because it made sense,” Culkin said. “It's one of my friendships that people question, only because of the fact that he was the most famous person in the world.”
Rosenbam asked about their age gap, noting that it’s unusual for an adult to be close friends with a child. But Culkin, who achieved fame very young, explained why he didn't find it to be strange. “I was a peerless person,” he said. “Nobody else in my Catholic school even had this... idea of what I was going through, and he was the kind of person who'd been through the exact same freakin' thing and wanted to make sure I wasn't alone in that,” explained the actor. “He reached out to me ‘cause a lot of things were happening big and fast with me. I think he identified with that."
The documentary recounts Culkin's testimony at Jackson's 2005 trial. Per ABC News, Jackson was charged with molestation, attempted molestation, plying minors with liquor, and "conspiracy stemming from an alleged attempt to hold his accuser and the boy's family virtual hostages of Neverland." Jackson maintained his innocence, and Culkin appeared in court to be questioned.
CNN reported that Culkin claimed he had slept in Jackson’s bed more than a dozen times between the ages 9 and 14, but contended that there was nothing sexual about their sleepovers. "I've fallen asleep in the same bed with him. I'd just flop down,” said Culkin. He also noted that Jackson had an “open door policy” so his door was never locked, and he always slept fully clothed.
CNN also reported, that during the trial, two former Neverland employees claimed to have witnessed Jackson behaving inappropriately with Culkin, which troubled him. "As far as I know, he's never molested me," Culkin said. "I find that unlikely. I think I'd realize if something like that would be happening."
Robson also testified at the trial, claiming that nothing sexual had occurred between himself and Jackson. "Michael's training of me to testify began the first night that he started abusing me, in the sense that you know, that right away, after the first kind of experience of sexual abuse, he started telling me that if anybody else ever finds out, we'll both go to jail, both of our lives would be over," Robson told CBS This Morning a few days before the HBO premiere, per The Hollywood Reporter.
IndieWire reported that Michael Jackson's estate issued a statement about the film in January. It reads:
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson…Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. This so called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
In response, HBO released the following statement to The Hollywood Reporter:
"Our plans remain unchanged. The two-part documentary, Leaving Neverland will air as scheduled on Sunday, Mar. 3 and Monday, Mar. 4. Dan Reed is an award-winning filmmaker who has carefully documented these survivors' accounts. People should reserve judgment until they see the film."
While the documentary includes many first-person claims about Jackson's allegedly abusive behavior, Culkin still stands by the star. He has not commented publicly on the documentary.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.