leaving neverland

The 8 Biggest Takeaways From Oprah’s After Neverland Special

Photo: Bennett Raglin/Own Network

Following the second half of the Leaving Neverland documentary, HBO and OWN aired a special on Monday night hosted by Oprah Winfrey, in which she interviewed Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the two men who accused Michael Jackson of molesting them, as well as the film’s director Dan Reed. The hour-long After Neverland special was filmed in front of an audience of more than 100 sexual-abuse survivors and their families, with Oprah saying that she put the event together because in 25 years of doing her show and 217 episodes dedicated to the subject, Reed captured what she’d been trying to say in just four hours.

From the outset, Oprah made it clear that After Neverland was about all sexual abusers and their victims, not just Jackson and the two men onstage. Still, she covered many topics about the documentary itself, including why Reed chose not to include any Michael Jackson defenders, how the men are doing now that the story is out there, the backlash they’ve received, and the accusations that they’re just doing this for money. Here are the eight biggest takeaways from Oprah’s post–Leaving Neverland special.

Robson and Safechuck first met at Neverland Ranch

One of the common arguments made by Jackson supporters is that Robson and Safechuck got together and plotted out their stories before the film in order to eventually sue the singer’s estate. The documentary doesn’t mention whether the two men met, but Oprah asked Safechuck if he had known Robson before the latter made his first public molestation claim. “I had met Wade twice when we were kids, when we were on the set of the ‘Jam’ video [in 1991] and when Michael had a weekend at Neverland with us and a few other kids,” he said. “So, I knew of Wade and he was nice, so I had gotten along with him as a little kid, but that’s it.”

Oprah accused Jackson of being a ‘good’ abuser

Throughout the special, Oprah aimed to debunk the stereotypes of how an abuse victim should act. “If you’re 7 years old and someone is stroking your penis, it feels good. Even if you don’t have a name for what that is, it feels good,” she told the men and the audience. “That’s one of the reasons it’s so confusing for children. Everybody wants to believe it’s like sexual assault and you’re being thrown up against a wall and being raped, and I have said for years, if the abuser is any good, you won’t even know it’s happened […] If the abuser is any good, he or she is going to make you feel like you’re a part of it and nothing is more a part of it than what we discussed earlier.”

Robson feared Jackson would turn into the ‘Thriller’ werewolf

While discussing the topic of grooming — the technique in which abusers establish trust with their victims and manipulate them before the acts start — the men talked about how Jackson used this technique on both them and their families. One method Jackson often used was to make them feel that they were “saving” him from his loneliness and the scary outside world where he could never be normal. They said he would cry often, with Robson recalling the time Jackson was huddled in a corner, sobbing, in the middle of the night, distraught that the Robson family was leaving the next day. “One of the things that speak to my state of mind at that point — and I was 7, and I had just met him — I started becoming afraid that he was going to turn into the werewolf from ‘Thriller.’ That’s where I was because that was the Michael I knew and now I was in his house, in his bedroom, in his bed.”

Both men explain why they hid their accusations

“I was afraid of being caught. It was on the news 24/7,” Safechuck said about not testifying on Jackson’s behalf in the 2005 trial. “It was too much to handle. When I said no [to testifying], I wasn’t trying to do the right thing. I was just afraid. It was self-preservation.”

“If I was to question Michael and my story with Michael, my life with Michael, it would mean that I would have to question everything in my life, so it wasn’t even an option to think about it,” Robson said. “Michael was good. That was all that existed in my mind.” Robson also expressed great remorse for not speaking up for the other accusers, Jordan Chandler and Gavin Arvizo, and any other children Jackson might have molested, saying he was just too brainwashed into playing the “good soldier” and lying in public.

Reed thinks ‘financial interest’ is behind the Jackson estate’s criticisms

Another major criticism of the documentary is that Reed didn’t interview anyone outside of Robson, Safechuck, and their families. “No one in the family disputes that Michael spent night after night after night with little boys […] The issue here is what happened when the bedroom door closed and when the lights went off,” the director pointed out to Oprah, noting that neither man claimed anyone else ever witnessed the abuses. “So what is the journalistic value of interviewing someone who says, ‘Well, Michael was a really nice guy and he’d never do anything to a child,’ particularly if that person has a gigantic vested interest, a financial interest, in smearing these two young men?”

Robson said his lawsuit against the Jackson estate isn’t about money

Speaking of money, Oprah brought up the times Robson tried to benefit financially from his abuse allegations, specifically the $1.5 billion lawsuit he filed against the Jackson estate in 2013. “The question was, Could I do something good with this bad? Is there a place I can tell this story that would be a credible, powerful platform where they would have to listen, the estate, that they would have to be held accountable?” Robson said. “I could’ve, I guess, just gone on some TV shows and done some interviews and more than likely it would’ve been sensationalized and over in a couple weeks.”

When asked if he believed he was owed money, Robson replied, “It wasn’t a thought of mine […] Also, a big piece for me was Michael trained me and forced me to tell the lie for so many years, particularly on the stand, and those were really traumatizing experiences for me […] so the feeling, for me, was I want to reprocess that experience. I want to get on the stand again, because now I’m able to tell the truth.”

Neither man has forgiven his mother

The mothers of both men rightfully received plenty of criticism for their roles in allowing their sons to be so close with Jackson. Robson’s mother, Joy, still hasn’t watched any part of the documentary where he details the alleged abuses. “I wish she was further along in her capability,” Robson said. “I realized I was looking for her to say something to make it all better, that was going to make it all go away. I didn’t know what that was, but I just kept waiting for it, and she was never saying it; she was never doing it.”

“I haven’t even processed yet that she’s heard it,” Safechuck said. “I try to have sympathy for her because she was groomed. I’m not letting her off the hook.”

Safechuck still felt ‘guilt’ watching Leaving Neverland

From the start of the special, Safechuck was visibly nervous and distraught, with bloodshot eyes and the expression of someone who might break down at any moment. “You hate yourself, but you have no idea why,” he said at one point. At another, he talked about taking part in the film, saying, “I felt guilt this weekend, like I let him down. That shadow is still there. It just creeps me out.” Safechuck also said he still hasn’t forgiven himself.

“It’s going to be a lifelong journey for me,” he said. “When this ends and the attention is no longer on the film, I still gotta go on and deal with this. This moment will end and I still have a lot of work to do. I’m helping myself so I can be better for my kids and my family, and that’s the goal.”

The 8 Biggest Takeaways From Oprah’s After Neverland Special