The talk show icon also acknowledges that she and the film's subjects and director are "all gonna get it" from die-hard Michael Jackson fans and defenders.
From the moment it was announced, Oprah Winfrey has been raked over the coals by Michael Jackson fans for daring to interview the subjects and director of HBO's controversial docuseries "Leaving Neverland" about alleged sexual abuse at the pop star's hands.
Simulcast on HBO and Winfrey's OWN network after the final chapter of the series, the talk show icon sat down with director Dan Reed, alongside Wade Robson and James Safechuck.
Both met Jackson when they were very young and their families struck up long friendships with the King of Pop, including stays at Neverland Ranch. And both men have come out in recent years with allegations that Jackson sexually abused them as children.
"So when all the fans and the estate and all the anger," Winfrey told the men of the response to the docuseries. "You guys are gonna get it; you know that, right?"
"You're all gonna get it, I'm gonna get it, we're all gonna get it," the TV icon said, referencing rabid Jackson fans. "Are you prepared for that?"
Then Winfrey and Reed went on to claim this film isn't really about Michael Jackson at all.
Bigger Than Michael Jackson
As far as they're concerned, all those fans are missing the point entirely. The reason Winfrey wanted to get involved with this after-show interview is because of an aspect of child sexual abuse that she'd struggled for years to express, and felt was expressed to perfection in the film.
"I tried and tried and tried to get the message across to people that sexual abuse was not just abuse, it was also sexual seduction," Winfrey explained. After seeing the film, she reached out to Reed and told him, "You were able to illustrate in these four hours what I tried to explain in 217 [episodes]."
"For me, this moment transcends Michael Jackson," she insisted. "It is much bigger than any one person. It is a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption. It's like a scourge."
And yet, because Michael Jackson is still this larger-than-life figure, it is virtually impossible to disassociate this larger message of grooming from the specific allegations against the pop star. Certainly Jackson's fans and those who maintain his innocence will find it difficult to set aside that it is their idol being -- as they see it falsely -- accused to spread this message.
Grooming From Before They Met
Winfrey brought on Dr. Howard Fradkin to talk about this alleged grooming process that both men detailed in an almost textbook way in "Leaving Neverland." The first step is convincing the victim, and sometimes they're family, that they are safe with you. Then making you feel special. And finally, the gradual introduction and escalation of physical contact.
But Robson argued that he believes Jackson had begun his grooming before meeting any of the young boys he would befriend throughout his career. "The grooming had started long before we ever met him because he was who he was, he was such a massive figure and represented himself as such an angel," Robson said.
He then started speaking as if these were words Jackson would say. "I didn't have a childhood, I love children so much. That's why I love being around children and I want to help other children have a childhood."
As Robson sees it, all of that is setting anyone and everyone up to be more likely to trust him with their children, or themselves if they are children. "Long before ever meeting him for the first time, so much had been set up already that I was, and I think my mother-- my whole family was already surrendered before we met him."
And then, of course, that would continue into an ongoing and allegedly abusive relationship. An example Winfrey pulled out was Safechuck's story of when Jackson asked the family to come and "save" him from his lonely home, bringing him back to their home and spending time with them.
"We were saving him, giving him a life outside his normal existence," Robson said. "That with us he could be normal."
The Jackson estate has spoken out against the docuseries, denying the allegations and calling Robson and Safechuck opportunists seeking a payday. "The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred," they said in a statement. "They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations." Jackson also maintained his innocence until his death.
And while he was charged twice with child sexual abuse, he was never found guilty, settling the first case out of court and being found innocent on ten charges, in part due to the testimony of Robson on his behalf.
And yet, Reed did not interview anyone from the estate or others who interacted with Jackson as children and have denied any inappropriate behavior. "This is a film that's not about Jackson, it's about what happened to Wade and James," he said, arguing that there is no dispute Jackson spent his nights with boys in his bed.
"The issue here is what happened when the bedroom doors closed and the lights went off. Well, what happened was between Wade and Michael and James and Michael. To my knowledge, none of you guys have ever mentioned that anyone else was in the room."
"What is the journalistic value of interviewing someone who says, 'Well Michael was a really nice guy and he would never do anything to a child,'" Reed asked. "Particularly if that person has a gigantic vested interest, a financial interest in smearing these two young men and discrediting them."
That doesn't explain the lack of contact with other children who've also alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Jackson, like the two boys who took him to court over it, and those who've maintained that nothing ever happened.
In It for the Money
One of the biggest arguments against these current accusers, and against the accusers that came before them is the perception that they're just in it for the money. Reed tried to squash that immediately by saying, "They have no financial interest, let me make that clear straight away, in my documentary. They're not being remunerated in any way and neither are their families."
But there is the matter of Robson's lawsuit against the Jackson estate and Jackson's companies, which was seeking substantial financial damages. But according to Robson, that case wasn't about the money, either. It was about the platform.
"Is there a way, is there a platform, is there a place where I can tell this story that would be a credible, powerful platform to tell it within where they would have to listen," he said. "That they would have to be held accountable."
One of the facets of the film left dangling was the relationships between the men and their mothers, who were as wrapped up in their stories with Michael Jackson as the boys themselves. In both cases, the mothers were allegedly groomed as much as the boys were, and kept ignorant of any alleged abuse.
In both cases, the guys said they were still working on forgiving their mother's roles in the alleged abuse, but that they were on the journey toward doing that. They also suggested their mothers would benefit from the therapy process as well because while they are not sexual abuse victims in this case, they are nevertheless victims of Jackson's alleged abuse in a different way.
For Robson, part of his struggle is his mother's refusal to even hear the details of the alleged abuses he suffered. She said as much in the documentary, and Robson revealed that when Reed screened it for the families, she had him skip those details there as well.
"That's a tough one," he said. "I wish she was further along in her capabilities."
As for James, he said he hasn't even processed yet that his mother has now heard the details of the alleged abuse after their family screening. "I think I shut off when we were watching it to get through her hearing it," he said.
And while he still cannot say he forgives her, he is working on his relationship. "Right now I'm trying to learn how to communicate with my mom," he said. "And I'm also trying to get her to get help, because if you don't help yourself, you can't help other people. So she needs to work on her own issues so that she can understand what happened."
Through the Children
"If my son had never been born, I think there's a really good chance that I would still be living in silence," Robson said. Both men said that there is a disconnect from your own childhood self that doesn't really become clear until you start to see yourself in your children at those ages.
"You don't connect with you as a child," Safechuck said. "You don't have any sympathy for yourself or any empathy. There's a disconnect. I don't relate to that kid. But when you have your own kid, I think it's a way for you to bridge that. You see yourself in him and then you can see what kids are actually like."
"It wasn't until I gained the perspective of being a father, because I was so cut off from little Wade, until my son was born," said Robson. "I was like, 'Oh my god, this is what a child looks like, this is how a child thinks, this is how a child behaves. That was me.'"
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