COMMENTARY: #CancelMichaelJackson? — It’s Not That Easy

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson and a young Wade Robson/Courtesy “Leaving Neverland”/Sundance Institute

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent


After a riveting documentary that revisited some of the alleged crimes by R&B superstar R. Kelly – even before his high-profile arrest on child pornography and other sex-related acts – a major social media movement got underway to #MuteRKelly and #CancelRKelly.

Now, a possibly equally explosive documentary about the late Michael Jackson has led some to wonder if it’s time to “#Mute” or “#Cancel” the late King of Pop.

“I don’t care about toppling Michael Jackson,” said the documentary’s filmmaker Dan Reed, whose “Leaving Neverland” is set to air over two nights on HBO beginning Sunday, March 3.

“The question we should be asking is, ‘Should I trust my children to this stranger?’ The question that child sexual abuse victims should be asking is, ‘Is this the time for me to come out and tell my story to those around me? Can I tell my mum?’”

Reed continued:

“I don’t care whether people listen to Michael Jackson’s music or not. It’s about the man and not the music. But the man appears as a much different figure after watching the film. He hurt a lot of people. He was cruel. He was vicious. How you reconcile that with the music is a private matter.”

The film centers on two men who say that Jackson sexually assaulted them when they were children.

Choreographer Wade Robson met Jackson when he was 7.

James Safechuck said he began sharing a bed with the singer when he was only 10.

In their younger years, both men denied Jackson molested them, but after Jackson’s death in 2009, both have detailed in graphic fashion the sex they said took place at various hotels and at the star’s famed Neverland Ranch in Santa Ynez, Calif.

Jackson’s estate has sued HBO for $100 million claiming that the network entered into an agreement with the singer in 1992 that prohibited them from disparaging Jackson.

HBO called the suit meritless and said it would air the documentary as planned.

Some Twitter users have weighed in on whether there should be a “#Mute” or “#Cancel” Michael Jackson movement. “If you can #MuteRKelly you can also #mutemichaeljackson. Death has nothing to do with the situation,” wrote Twitter user Krissiekris7331.

“#MichaelJackson doc #LeavingNeverland follows his serial rape of boys just like #SurvivingRKelly documents his serial abuse of girls,” Twitter user Robbie Woliver wrote. “Jackson’s music should be muted from playlists just like #RKelly. No difference just because the victims are boys. #MuteMichaelJackson.”

Because fans of the late singer arguably are the most loyal for any entertainer and his estate is a cash cow that rakes in hundreds of millions each year, muting or canceling Michael Jackson poses many challenges.

It’s also a fact that Jackson’s music represents the soundtrack of the lives of so many and his songs are a staple at weddings, anniversaries, and just about any social event imaginable.

Oliver Keens, the Music & Nightlife editor of Time Out London, tackled that conundrum.

“DJs I’ve spoken to recently have already started saying goodbye to their disco edits of ‘Rock with You,’ pruning ‘Off The Wall’ out of their record boxes, deleting ‘PYT’ from their memory sticks. I can’t stress how much this is for your own good. After this film, you will not want to listen to Michael Jackson on the dance floor, at a wedding, at a club, anywhere.

“I think it’s essential that ‘Leaving Neverland’ sparks so much outrage that a movement for change begins straight away. Yet outrage itself is a complicated issue in 2019. Take a common reaction to any artist accused of wrongdoing, which goes: ‘But this is hypocritical. If we censor X, then surely we should censor Y and Z too?’

“If you’ve read all this and think I’m overreacting, see the film and make up your own mind. If you’re cynically minded and instinctively think the two men are liars (or just after money, a picture Jackson habitually tried to paint of any accuser), see the film and make up your own mind. Yes, Michael Jackson made some of the finest music ever recorded, but it’s not enough anymore. Letting his songs stay ingrained in the fabric of our society says that our society is morally dead.”

Still, Jackson’s family and fans argue that, like R. Kelly in his 2008 trial, the King of Pop was acquitted of charges in 2005 that he molested a young boy.

Critics counter that both men paid out substantial settlements in other cases, including Jackson’s more than $20 million payout to a young accuser who said Jackson molested him in 1993.

As for the claims that “Leaving Neverland” is a “pathetic attempt to cash in on Michael Jackson,” Reed told the Independent: “Of course it’s all about money. It’s about the estate’s money. It made $400m last year [and] is trying to protect its main asset.

“I’m not making any allegations, but I think the question remains: how much did the family know?” Reed said. “When did they know it? It’s clear that a lot of people in the Jackson household saw things. On the record, they testified to that,” he said.

“[They] gave evidence in court. But the only noise I’m hearing from the Jackson camp is the estate hurling abuse at children who were raped by Michael Jackson. I think that’s shameful.”

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