Leaving Neverland Reveals Just How Badly Fame Hungry Parents Can Hurt Their Kids

Archita Kashyap - 53 weeks ago

Leaving Neverland subjects and celebrity perpetrator are examples of botched morality inherited from greedy parents that did everything wrong.

(Michael Jackson, Wade Robson and Joy Robson in a still from Leaving Neverland)

Celebrity kids are messed up - that’s common perception. In the 21st century, this has been disproved. But in the past, there have been more than enough instances of young celebrities going off the radar of normalcy while growing up. In common media discourse, their incredible wealth and immeasurable fame attained at an age before they can vote has been considered the reason for this. But the role of a parent, who just gives up for the sake of fame and wealth, has largely been made a footnote. In the case of Michael Jackson, and his friend Macaulay Culkin, this role of an abusive, domineering parent can’t be ignored. Strangely enough, nor can it be given leeway for the mothers of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, two victims of sexual abuse of Michael Jackson. Their stories have taken the world by storm in Leaving Neverland, a shocking, well told documentary that made waves when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. 

Leaving Neverland has made news for its stirring content which presents the side of two victims of Jackson who are now grown men, and fathers themselves. Dan Reed, the filmmaker behind this 4 hour, 2-part documentary, has presented their story as its core without focusing on Jackson’s legend and it’s overwhelming influence on public opinion in the Eighties, Nineties, or till today. It also made ripples when co-producer HBO got sued for a 100 million dollars by the Jackson Estate, calling it a collection of malicious lies. But at its core is the truth that some parents get hungry for money and fame to a point where they display questionable behaviour towards their children in different forms. 

(Michael Jackson and Jimmy Safechuck in a still from Leaving Neverland)

Joe Jackson, Michael’s father has been known to abuse his children while touring with them around the USA as manager of their band, the Jackson Five. He shared a particularly strained relationship with his son, Michael, the biggest draw and an obvious star of the future. Perhaps the father didn’t quite grasp the potential of MJ’s stratospheric stardom yet, but he could smell the money. Similarly, Kit Culkin, Macaulay Culkin’s father, was a failed actor who made it his life’s mission to turn fate around for his sons. Macaulay achieved unimaginable fame and eye popping wealth with Home Alone breaking all box office records of its time. Feuding with his wife, who co-managed Macaulay’s career, and abusive towards his kids, the father left an indelible scar of angst and sadness in their lives. Macaulay divorced himself from both his parents when he was 16 so that he could access his money and keep them off it. Their father had made life so hard for him and his mother and siblings that they could barely afford to pay rent on their apartment, even as Culkin’s millions remained locked down in the bank. This seemingly weird decision that Macaulay made, to separate himself from both his parents, was also to ensure that his brothers got a more protected and comfortable childhood. Culkin remains an impulsive personality till date, dabbling in movies, music and commercials as per his desire. He is still unimaginably rich and popular but his view of morality could easily have become skewed. As he has stated in interviews, he witnessed his mother and father fight over how to divide up their son’s money rather than worry about his care when he was just a young teenager. In a life where money marks the most important decisions, morality could become just a side show. 

(Dan Reed, Director of Leaving Neverland, with Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck)

Interestingly, Culkin and Jackson were close friends, so much so that the Home Alone star is godfather to all three of Jackson’s children, and very close to his daughter, Paris. It’s a strange intertwining of talented young people whose childhood and youth were spent on cashing on their early success. 

What becomes clearly visible in the case of Macaulay Culkin and the late Michael Jackson, is observed on careful examination in the cases of James Safechuck and Wade Robson. Both were very young, 9 and 7, respectively when uncomfortable sexual experiences entered their lives along with the ‘friendship’ of Michael Jackson. Stephanie Safechuck and Joy Robson speak about their roles in perpetuation of abuse, manipulation and emotional exploitation that their sons faced in Jackson’s fairy tale like residence, Neverland. When investigations in Jackson’s alleged paedophile behaviour began in the late Nineties, Safechuck and Robson spoke up for their mentor and friend while admitting to sharing a bed with him. As they have grown into men who have children of their own, they have confronted latent trauma and repressed emotions to come to terms with the fact that they wanted to be in favour of their icon; be his ‘favourite’. As Jackson fans and apologists continue to call them liars, the men accept that some judgment will come their way. But their truth telling is driven by a need to understand what had really happened to them and why so much could happen for so long without anyone preventing such blatant abuse. 

As reviewers across the West have noted, it is to the credit of Dan Reed as a documentarian that he has been able to get the mothers to state how poorly they have failed at their jobs. While Robson relocated from Australia with her seven-year-old son to be close to Neverland and relish the opportunities that Jackson brought her son, she also concedes to have driven her child to meet the late pop icon at 130 am without asking questions. Safechuck has similar moments of acceptance of her hunger for Jackson’s favours taking over from rational judgment of a parent. In fact, that a grown man would surround himself with young boys and adolescents for house parties, asking their parents to leave, should have been enough to raise alarm bells for anyone. But the lure of fame and money won over logic and reason, and parental responsibility in such instances. 

To borrow a millennial term, Parent Fail doesn’t begin to capture the travesty that seeking fame and money made of such parents. Reviewers and audiences have recoiled with shock and horror with disgusting details that emerge while watching Leaving Neverland. Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual misconduct cannot be ignored or forgotten. But that his botched sense of morality, like those of Macaulay Culkin and a few more young celebrities, does emerge from the complete disregard that their parents displayed for their natural duty. Money over motherhood is not an unimaginable thought, as Leaving Neverland clearly reflects. 

(Leaving Neverland is currently playing on myNK)


Michael Jackson / James Safechuck / Wade Robson / Macaulay Culkin / Britney Spears/ HBO / Amos Pictures / Channel 4

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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