The Michael Jackson HBO documentary Leaving Neverland has been pulled from the air in Russia. It’s been just under ten years since The King of Pop passed away, leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Unfortunately, that legacy was arguably tainted over the years, thanks to Jackson’s often-bizarre public persona and rumors of sexual misconduct.
Beginning in 1993, the rumors of misconduct followed Jackson until his death, despite having settled out of court with his accusers and later being acquitted of further charges in court. With Jackson’s death refocusing public attention on the artist and performer, HBO’s new two-part, four-hour documentary, Leaving Neverland, has changed everything. The film - which details the claims of two of Jackson’s now fully grown, alleged victims - has been stirring up substantial controversy since premiering earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. HBO is now airing the film around the world, and while some fans aren’t eager to see it, censors in Russia are taking action.
According to THR, Russian television’s main channel, Channel One, has pulled Leaving Neverland from its schedule, refusing to air the film due to the ongoing scandal between the Jackson estate and accusers, James Safechuck and Wade Robson. The film was originally given a late night slot on Russia’s most-watched TV network, but the controversy has led the network to pull the film and make an official statement. Said Channel One’s spokeswoman, Larisa Krymova:
"The film's premiere at Sundance and on HBO provoked a controversial public reaction and aggression on the part of both supporters and opponents of the film. In this situation, Channel One made the decision to move the Russian premiere of Leaving Neverland to its website."
Leaving Neverland will be available for free on Channel One’s website for a brief period of time, so those in Russia who still wish to see the film may do so. However, the TV ban has led some to speculate that the action might have more to do with the Russian state’s notoriously strict censorship laws than with its concern for the parties currently involved in the debate. Other countries have seen strong reactions to the film as well, with fans in England having protested outside the headquarters of the TV network due to broadcasting it. In the United States, the Jackson estate announced late last month that they were suing HBO for $100 million, alleging that the film violates a clause in a 1992 contract between the estate and the network.
There’s no question that with an issue such as this, opinions are going to be strong and wide ranging. The fact that Jackson was the performer he was, whose music and seemingly gentle persona changed the face of pop music, and who died under such sudden and tragic circumstances, amplifies the issue’s emotional charge. Fans and networks alike may disagree on the need to air the documentary, but in the end, it must be made available for all who wish to see it. Jackson may not be here to defend himself, but those of us who are left with questions might just need to consider what Leaving Neverland has to say.