The documentary Leaving Neverland is set to air on HBO in two parts on March 3 and 4. In in-depth interviews, Wade Robson and James Safechuck recount their relationships with Michael Jackson and accuse him of sexually abusing them when they were children. (Jackson was never charged for any crimes committed against either of those men, and he was acquitted of molestation charges related to another accuser in 2005.) Many viewers may be familiar with dancer and choreographer Wade Robson, though he's been out of the spotlight for quite some time.
In the documentary, Robson, now 36, recounts becoming interested in dance when he was five years old and first saw Jackson's "Thriller" video. His childhood dance career — supported by Jackson — blossomed into TRL-era fame, when Robson started choreographing videos and tours for some of the biggest stars of the '90s, including Britney Spears and *NSYNC. In 2003, he got his own MTV dance competition show called The Wade Robson Project.
He also served as a choreographer and occasional guest judge for So You Think You Can Dance in some of the show's earlier seasons, for which he won two Emmys for Outstanding Choreography. Per The Los Angeles Times, Robson was planning to direct the movie Step Up 4 in 2011, but had what he now refers to as "a nervous breakdown."
"Dance and film all got painted black for me, because it was all so connected with Michael," Robson told The LA Times. “So yeah, I quit all of it and I tried to bury it all alive and I swore I’d never dance or make music or make films ever again. I threw a smoke bomb and moved to Hawaii. 'Agents, managers, don’t call me. I’m done.'"
Though he had testified during Jackson's 2005 trial that Jackson had not abused him, Robson sued the performer's estate in 2013, for years of alleged sexual abuse, per People. The magazine reports that in 2015 a probate court first rejected Robson's suit against Michael Jackson's estate, and then in 2017, two of Jackson's businesses — MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures — were determined to be "not liable," with the judge ruling that "no one other than Michael Jackson had the legal ability or authority to control Michael Jackson." The ruling did not include any comment on the credibility of Robson's allegations. Jackson died in 2009.
As reported by IndieWire, Michael Jackson's estate issued a statement ahead of the documentary's release, which 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."
In an interview with DanceTeacher.com, Robson revealed why he returned to teaching dance — in Hawaii, where he lives with his wife and son — in 2017.
"I didn't think I ever would. I thought that dance was gone from my life forever. Whenever it would call to me, I'd just say 'no' and push those thoughts away... Then one morning I awoke with the awareness that before my relationship with dance had become tainted, it was pure, innocent and joyful. Could I get that back?" he said.
It seems like he did, and not only has Robson seemingly found healing from getting back into dancing but he also in taking part in Leaving Neverland.
"There’s a lot of release happening for me," he told The LA Times the day after the documentary premiered at Sundance. "There’s been a lot of tears. There’s tiredness. But this is a sea change moment for me in this healing journey and in trying to be heard. And it’s happened, and that’s incredible."
Now that Robson has embarked on a healing journey, he uses his platform to inspire other people who identify as survivors of child abuse. On his website, Robson has a page that shares resources for those healing from trauma. He wrote on his site, "I have come across several healing modalities that have helped me tremendously."
Robson told The LA Times that, in addition to reading various books and seeking therapy, dancing has helped him heal, too — mostly because he approaches dance differently from how Jackson did. "[It’s] the opposite way that Michael told me to approach everything in the entertainment business, which was just so intense — ‘be the best or be nothing at all, rule the world, destroy everyone,'" he recalled. Now, Robson said, he focuses on having fun more than anything else.
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.