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KEMBURU: Debut of ‘Leaving Neverland’ forces us to question values

Opinion Column: An Optimist's Opinion

He was dubbed the “King of Pop.” He joined The Jackson 5 at the mere age of 5 years old but emerged as the group’s lead singer. He made musical history time and time again, winning the Grammy Living Legend Award, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and having his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is Michael Jackson. And Jackson, according to the recently released documentary “Leaving Neverland,” was a sexual predator and a pedophile. 

Directed by Dan Reed, “Leaving Neverland” focuses on the story of two boys (now men), James Safechuck and Wade Robson, and follows them back in time to when Jackson allegedly sexually abused the pair. 

The documentary details how Safechuck and Robson met Jackson at a very young age, and how they were sexually abused by him when they were 10 and 7, respectively. The film focused on not only how much the two idolized Jackson, but also on how Jackson built relationships with the families of the two boys, and how he subsequently exploited all of those relationships. Some of the most horrifying parts of the documentary are those in which Safechuck and Robson describe their time alone with Jackson, and the details of the sexual abuse itself. 

Safechuck said Jackson would hold mock wedding ceremonies with the two, with a ring and everything. “We would pretend my small hand fit whatever female we were buying it for. I was really into jewelry and he would reward me with jewelry for doing sexual acts for him,” he said. But that was not even the worst of it. Jackson allegedly watched pornography with them, performed oral sex on them (and vice versa) and masturbated while watching them. After watching “Leaving Neverland,” viewers are sure to feel haunted and disturbed.  

The truthfulness of the documentary and of Safechuck and Robson has been at the core of the discussion surrounding not only this specific instance, but in many allegations of sexual abuse in general. But another aspect of these situations that I think garners just as much debate is the question of how one should consume the art of a sexual predator or someone alleged to be a sexual predator. 

There have been numerous instances in which directors, producers, actors, singers, rappers and so many other integral figures in the entertainment industry have been accused of sexual harassment and abuse, and this creates a sort of moral dilemma for the viewer. 

Are we meant to separate the art from the artist, and continue to consume their art? And if that is the case, are we in a way supporting the abuse by paying for it? Or are we meant to stop consuming all their art, period? Even if it was a huge part of our childhood or a substantial part of who we became? And even if there were hundreds or thousands of other people who played a part in its creation that are innocent in all this? 

The industry itself seems to have created its own solution. The streaming service Spotify has made the decision to stop promoting the music of R. Kelly, someone who has been accused of sexual abuse for years now. Other sexual predators, like Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey have been fired from their jobs (and those are just a couple of examples). 

From the way that I see it, something important that I think needs to be acknowledged in this conversation is the fact that the abuser was likely able to abuse because of their position of power and because they had been supported and encouraged for so long. And although it is not easy, we need to help take away that power, and make the entertainment industry aware that this type of behavior will not be condoned, not now and not in the future. 

But, the past is something that is definitely more complicated, seeing how someone like Jackson is not necessarily benefiting in any way from people listening to him. And for the first time, I, an 18-year-old, do not have the answer to a question that is abstract and complex and deeply intimate. 

Maybe we need to stop using the word “we,” and look at it on a more individual basis. I know for one that I have not exactly ever been Jackson’s biggest fan, and I know that ever since watching “Leaving Neverland,” I could never listen to his music without thinking of the graphic details expressed by Safechuck and Robson. So, I know that I will not and that I cannot. 

But what about you? Will you? Can you? 

Anusha Kemburu is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year  majoring in political science. Her column, “An Optimist’s Opinion,” runs  on alternate Thursdays.


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