After Neverland

graffiti drawing of butterfly

cn: emotional and sexual abuse, no graphic descriptions

I saw Part I of the Leaving Neverland documentary and have some thoughts, but first I want to acknowledge the survivors who told their stories in brutally honest detail. Wade Robeson and James Safechuck, thank you.

What struck me the most, besides how horrific these kids’ experiences were, is how patterns of abuse are often so similar. My experience of emotional abuse does not compare to their nightmare, in so far as it’s possible to compare difficult experiences, but it was absolutely chilling to hear them describe treatment that felt so familiar:

  • being made to feel so special, like the only person in the world who matters
  • the “us against them” mentality groomed into them
  • the over-the-top relationship building
  • the gifts and lavish offers of help with their careers
  • the constant need for and expectation of contact
  • how the survivors’ timelines were stacked up one against another (noting that some of the kids who spent similar time with MJ have denied any occurrence of abuse)

It was really difficult to watch this, but once I started I couldn’t stop- it felt important to me to bear witness to these men’s experiences. (I acknowledge and fully respect that viewing this may not be for everyone, and I hope you do what you need to to take care of yourself.)

Watching this footage and these brave interviews made me so grateful that we are living in a time where this behavior is being called out, even posthumously. The emotional and physical well-being of these men mattered when they were children, and it matters now.

I also am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I had the thought, “Oh no, this means we can’t do the Thriller dance at Halloween anymore. I love doing the Thriller dance.” But my god, if this means we can move forward toward a place where people in power who abuse that power don’t get to have great legacies and live on through their art…I want to live in that world. Not in a world with the Thriller dance.


Roxane Gay wrote an excellent piece for Marie Claire on separating the art from the artist (or not) that I highly recommend: Can I Enjoy the Art but Denounce the Artist?

Leave a Comment