The wrath of Michael Jackson’s fans won’t keep the 2019 Sundance Film Festival from screening a documentary that features two men who accuse the late pop star of sexually assaulting them when they were children.
Festival organizers sent a statement to Sundance’s corporate partners this week, according to the trade publication IndieWire, assuring them that the four-hour documentary “Leaving Neverland” would go on as planned.
“Sundance Institute supports artists in enabling them to fully tell bold, independent stories, stories on topics which can be provocative and challenging,” the statement said. “We look forward to audiences at the Festival seeing these films and judging the work for themselves, and discussing it afterwards.”
Sundance went on to say that “we don’t currently plan to comment publicly or engage in the discourse around ‘Leaving Neverland,’ and would recommend that you do the same. We plan to proceed with the screening as announced. If you do plan to participate in the conversation, we’d welcome the opportunity to collaborate on your messaging.”
Online representatives of Jackson’s estate have distributed email addresses for Sundance, the film’s director, Dan Reed, and for HBO and Britain’s Channel 4, which are co-producing the film. Sundance organizers have received angry emails from around the world.
The documentary centers on two men who had relationships with Jackson when they were 7 and 10 years old. The men say Jackson sexually abused them during that time.
As soon as Sundance added “Leaving Neverland” to its lineup, Jackson’s estate denounced the film as “just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations,” and “yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.”
Jackson was accused of improper contact with young boys through most of his career. The one time he was tried in court on molestation charges, in 2005, he was acquitted. Jackson died in 2009 at the age of 50.
The documentary will play in Sundance’s Special Events program. Two screenings are scheduled: Friday, Jan. 25, 9 a.m., at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City; and Saturday, Jan. 26, 12:45 p.m., at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City. HBO is expected to air it in the spring.
Sundance apparently is keeping to its word regarding public comment. Spokespeople there did not reply to a request for comment Friday from The Salt Lake Tribune.