He was idolized by millions during his lifetime, and he remains a hero to many in death, but Michael Jackson’s highly unusual relationship with children has always been a cause for concern. The so-called King of Pop was accused of sexually abusing young boys on more than one occasion when he was still alive, though he only faced a criminal trial once. The superstar was found not guilty after a jury « rejected charges that he repeatedly molested a 13-year-old boy, gave him alcohol and held him and his family captive at Neverland Ranch, » The Washington Post reports.
One of the men who testified in Jackson’s high profile trial was Wade Robson, who defended the embattled singer. When he was interviewed for HBO’s explosive two-part documentary Leaving Neverland years later, Robson claimed that he’d lied on the stand because he « wasn’t ready » for the whole world to know the truth about what happened to him. Robson now alleges that Jackson molested him, and he isn’t the only former friend of the « Thriller » singer to come forward. Jimmy Safechuck also appears in Leaving Neverland, claiming Jackson abused him as a boy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the revelations sent social media into a meltdown. Let’s take a look at Twitter’s mixed reaction to the show.
Michael Rapaport lets it rip
Comedian and character actor Michael Rapaport is probably best-known for appearances in ’90s flicks Deep Blue Sea and True Romance, but the New Yorker hasn’t exactly fallen out of the limelight in the years since. Most of his work nowadays is on the small screen, and he’s also super active on Twitter. When he saw Leaving Neverland, Rapaport used the social media site to express his disgust at the allegations. « Anyone who wants to believe this dude wasn’t a Nasty MF needs to watch this s***, » he said. « No parent would let there [sic] kids have sleep overs with a regular grown ass man. No grown ass man would want a little kid to sleep over for days at a time unless you’re a nasty MF. »
Rapaport (who live tweeted as he watched the HBO documentary, and for some reason started referring to Michael Jackson as « Duke ») found support from many of his followers, though some didn’t agree with his assessment, claiming that Jackson was simply too innocent to do such heinous things to a child. The actor wasn’t buying it. « Personally when it comes to Hollywood scandals, usually when there’s smoke there’s fire, » Rapaport said. « Why you hanging out with kids and s*** Duke? »
Taj Jackon questions the credibility of the accusers
Michael Jackson’s family has defended the late singer vehemently since learning of HBO’s documentary. Just before Leaving Neverland dropped, Taj Jackson (son of Michael’s brother, Tito) went on radio show The Breakfast Club to attack the network, claiming that HBO was using his uncle’s name to catch up with Netflix. « I think HBO is in a certain position where Netflix is eating their lunch and I think they need this publicity, » he said (via The Source). When a lawsuit launched by the Jackson estate didn’t stop HBO from airing the doc, Taj predictably aired out his grievances on Twitter.
When other Twitter users pointed out that he couldn’t possibly say with 100 percent certainty that his uncle was not guilty of the alleged crimes, Taj called Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck’s accounts of the so-called abuse into question. « I’ve been around my uncle only thousands and thousands of hours, » he tweeted. « And since my uncle is not here to defend himself, the credibility of the accusers matter. And Wade and James have none. » Some people were appalled by his stance, but just as many stuck up for him. « Michael is not here to defend himself, he too deserves a voice and Taj Jackson is giving him one, » one user replied.
Amber Tamblyn discusses the dangers of child stardom
Because she found work in Hollywood as an adult, it’s easy to forget that Amber Tamblyn was once a child star. Today she’s probably best-known for Two and a Half Men (she starred in seasons eleven and twelve of the CBS sitcom), but her breakthrough on the soap opera General Hospital happened when she was still a kid. By the time she was old enough to win adult roles she was already an experienced actress, though Tamblyn does not recommend taking this route. After watching Leaving Neverland, she used Twitter to discuss how Jackson’s own childhood could have influenced his actions as an adult — the singer was allegedly physically abused by his father, Joe Jackson.
« As a former child actress, I can’t help but watch this documentary and think about how wrong it is for children to be put in the position of performing for the soul [sic] purpose of pleasing adults, » Tamblyn tweeted. « It’s such a slippery, dangerous, often abusive slope. » The argument that Jackson abused boys because he was abused as a boy has been made on numerous occasions over the years, but is the so-called « cycle of abuse » a real thing? After researching the topic in great detail, Slate determined that Jackson « may have been a bit more prone to be arrested for mistreating children, [but] there is no trodden pathway from victim to abuser. »
Morgan J. Freeman wants Jackson removed from his pedestal
Writer, director and producer Morgan J. Freeman (not to be confused with the veteran actor of the same name) has helmed a few feature films in his time, but the majority of them he’d probably rather we didn’t mention. He directed the disastrous sequel to Christian Bale classic American Psycho (Mila Kunis starred as a female successor to Bale’s Patrick Bateman) and a couple of other forgettable horrors, but he later found success behind the scenes — he’s been an executive producer on Teen Moms for a decade. His job on that show involves working with vulnerable teens, and this seems to have helped form his strong opinion on Leaving Neverland.
« They were innocent little kids, » Freeman tweeted. « They knew no better. » The producer suggested that it was time for people to stop idolizing Jackson in light of these most recent revelations. « This man must be removed from any/all pedestals, and put in his proper place in history: a megastar who abused his power to molest little boys. Unforgivable. » Many users responded with anger, telling Freeman to familiarize himself with the facts before forming an opinion. So he did just that. « After watching all 4 hours of Leaving Neverland and looking back at both trials, it’s clear to me that Michael Jackson was a pedophile, » he tweeted, doubling down despite the haters.
Comedian Travon Free weighs in on a serious topic
Award-winning writer and occasional actor Travon Free knows a thing or two about comedy. He’s written for HBO’s Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons and The Daily Show on Comedy Central, winning an Emmy for his work on the latter. Free picked up a second Primetime Emmy in 2017 when Full Frontal with Samantha Bee triumphed in the Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special category. What does it take to make a guy this funny laugh? People staunchly defending Michael Jackson on Twitter apparently does the trick.
« The MJ stans in my mentions are HILARIOUS, » he tweeted, alongside a GIF of Oprah Winfrey shrugging. « Ya boy is a gross child molester. Get over it. » The stans (a portmanteau of ‘stalker’ and ‘fan,' » according to Bustle), came out in full force. While some agreed with what the comic was saying, many called him out over it, pointing out that Jackson was investigated thoroughly at the time and no wrongdoing was found. « There’s no evidence of him doing anything gross, though, » one user replied. « If the people are problematic and the stories inconsistent, it’s rational to start asking questions. »
Jamelle Bouie questions Jackson’s behavior
Speaking of Slate, the magazine’s former chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie was quick to react to Leaving Neverland, sharing his disbelief on Twitter. The journalist (now a columnist for The New York Times and political analyst for CBS News) sent out a tweet while he was watching the HBO documentary, questioning why nobody called the King of Pop out at the time. « Watching Leaving Neverland, » he tweeted. « I’m young enough to have not been aware of the allegations about Michael Jackson as they were happening and it is WILD TO ME that anyone thought his behavior around and constant contact with young boys was remotely okay. »
The first allegations were made in 1993, when Jordan Chandler (who met Jackson by chance after the singer’s Jeep broke down in Beverly Hills, per Consequence of Sound) claimed that Jackson had molested him. No criminal charges were filed, but Jackson is said to have paid a fee in the region of $26 million to settle the case out of court (via BBC). Jackson couldn’t avoid court when Gavin Arvizo (who appeared alongside the pop superstar in infamous documentary Living With Michael Jackson) alleged that he’d been abused by the singer at his Neverland Ranch. Ultimately, Jackson was acquitted of all charges.
Elgin Charles thinks the FBI did its job
If you don’t recognize the name Elgin Charles, the title « Emperor of Hair » might ring a bell. The stylist (who works on A-list clients like Serena Williams, Drew Barrymore, and Gabrielle Union) produced a short-lived VH1 reality series called Beverly Hills Fabulous in 2011 and has made numerous appearances as himself on TV since then. Charles opened up about his divorce from Sister, Sister actress Jackée Harry and coming out as a bisexual man when he spoke to Advocate in 2018, something he « wasn’t strong enough » to do during his Beverly Hills Fabulous days. Today, however, he prefers having things out in the open, and he’s not scared to share his opinion on Twitter.
The stylist to the stars was not a big fan of Leaving Neverland. Like others, he believes that Jackson would have been jailed if he had done anything wrong. In his opinion, the HBO documentary glosses over this. « Michael Jackson was under FBI surveillance for well over a decade, » Charles tweeted. « They found NOTHING to substantiate claims of child abuse. He was also fully exonerated following his ’05 trial. Leaving Neverland fails to highlight these FACTS — and MJ is no longer here to defend himself. »
Bishop Talbert Swan sides with the late singer
As a leading figure in The Church of God in Christ, Bishop Talbert Swan’s words have been heeded by many. The outspoken prelate doesn’t reserve his opinions solely for his congregation, however. Swan regularly uses Twitter to spread the word of Jesus, get involved in political debates or simply share whatever happens to be on his mind — and he doesn’t hold back. He was banned from Twitter in 2018 for using « abusive, sometimes caustic language » (via Mass Live), but after an outcry from his followers, his account was reinstated just two weeks later. In 2019, Swan found himself caught up in the Leaving Neverland drama when he suggested that Wade Robson was lying about being abused by Jackson.
« Wade Robson admitted in Michael Jackson’s trial that he’d never been molested by Michael, » the bishop tweeted. « He changed his mind and sued his estate in 2013, 4 years after Jackson died. He lost. Now we’re Leaving Neverland with a one sided story because MJ can’t defend himself from the grave. » The tweet prompted a response from Travon Free, who (as we’ve already seen) has quite the opposite view. The comedy writer said that Swan was using « the fact a child didn’t want to tell on his abuser who was the biggest star in the world as evidence he wasn’t abused » in his strongly-worded response. « That’s gross man. What’s going on in your church pastor? »
Director Dan Reed defends the graphic content
Leaving Neverland hit actor and musician Bryan Greenberg hard, and he wasn’t alone. « Lot of disturbing details I wasn’t ready for, » Greenberg (How To Make It In America) said in a tweet, echoing the view of numerous other Twitter users. The word « disturbing » came up again and again on the Leaving Neverland hashtag, as people took to the platform in droves to express their shock and disgust. The Hollywood Reporter quickly compiled a list of the most disturbing moments from the documentary. These ranged from the system Jackson supposedly had in place to get away with his alleged molestation of children (bells would automatically ring when someone approached his bedroom, accusers say) to apparently « marrying » one of the boys featured in the HBO show.
The parts that caused the most upset were the graphic descriptions of what Jackson would apparently do to Robson and Safechuck, however. When he appeared on CBS This Morning, Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed defended his use of in-depth descriptions of sexual acts, claiming they were necessary. « I think for many years Jackson got away with this image of being a bit of a child himself and being very affectionate with children, and I wanted to make sure people understood this wasn’t overenthusiastic kissing or cuddling, » he said (via Complex). « This was sex, the kind of sex adults have but he was having with a little child. »
Rosie O’Donnell and Kailah Casillas call out the parents
Fans of MTV spin-off show The Challenge will already be familiar with Kailah Casillas, who made her debut on the RW: Go Big or Go Home season. The Florida native wasn’t exactly well-liked by her fellow contestants, but that’s often the cost of speaking your mind, especially when it comes to reality TV. Casillas, who also appeared on The Challenge several times, including 2018’s Final Reckoning season, did just that after watching Leaving Neverland. « NEVER WOULD I EVER LET MY CHILD SLEEP IN THE SAME ROOM/BED WITH A GROWN MAN, » she tweeted, using all caps to emphasize just how angry she was. « Period. »
This attitude was shared by a number of mothers of Twitter, some of them famous. Comedian, actress, and TV personality Rosie O’Donnell also called out the parents of the boys after watching Leaving Neverland, unable to understand how anyone could think leaving children that young alone with a grown man was a good idea. « Michael Jackson docu is on now on HBO — haunting, » she tweeted. « Who would leave a seven — yes 7 — year old boy with a grown man, » the Emmy-winner said. « Makes no sense to me as a mom. »
Nikki Glaser sees glaring similarities with Abducted in Plain Sight
Her tweets about children have landed her in hot water in the past, but that didn’t stop Nikki Glaser from weighing in on the Leaving Neverland controversy. The comedian pointed out the disturbing parallels between the HBO two-parter and Abducted in Plain Sight, a Netflix documentary about a man who was able to snatch a child from her parents using remarkably similar tactics to those reportedly used by Jackson. « If I’ve learned one thing from docs this year, it’s to NEVER EVER let an adult sleep in a bed alone w/ your child, » she tweeted. « I know I can’t fathom what it’s like to be a parent duped by a predator but I think from here on out, it should always be a resounding ‘NO F***ING WAY’ on this issue. »
Glaser (who worked on Inside Amy Schumer for a few years and later appeared with the actress in Trainwreck and I Feel Pretty) was quick to clarify that not every adult who likes to spend time with kids is out to do them harm, but she warned against the tactics used by the « skilled predators » out there. « Guaranteed there are parents reading this tweet who can think of exceptions to this rule, » she tweeted. « Skilled predators make the parents feel guilty for expressing any concern over how it’s inappropriate like ‘WHAT?! I WOULD NEVER DO THAT TO YOUR SON! GROSS THAT U WOULD EVEN THINK THAT!' »
The show triggered survivors of sexual abuse
Twitter star Charlotte Clymer found Leaving Neverland too disturbing to even watch. Clymer, a transgender woman and activist with the Human Rights Campaign, made headlines in 2019 after a Washington restaurant was fined thousands of dollars for asking her to show ID when she tried to use the female restroom. The Texan (who was subjected to abuse as a child) couldn’t finish Leaving Neverland through because she found the accounts of Robson and Safechuck triggered her. « I had to stop watching, » she revealed in a tweet. « Survivors of childhood sexual abuse should be aware that this is unsparing and brutal in its content. It’s really bad. If you’re even slightly vulnerable to triggering, just don’t watch. It’s not worth it. »
One of the most-cited arguments Jackson defenders use is that the accusers took too long to make their allegations against the singer, although this isn’t unusual in child abuse cases. Clymer called such arguments « jaw-dropping, awful nonsense, » in a 2018 thread in which she opened up about the abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her own mother. She also pointed out that on top of the shame and fear associated with confronting one’s abuser, there are also legal roadblocks. In fact, former child actor and abuse survivor Corey Feldman (who still defends Jackson, but also claims there’s a pedophile ring operating in Hollywood) is campaigning to extend the statute of limitations so victims can come forward whenever they feel ready.