Documentary Review: Unmasking Jihadi John: Anatomy of a Terrorist (dir by Anthony Wonke)


Who was Jihadi John?

He was the black-clad terrorist who haunted the news in 2014 and 2015.  He was the faceless man with the London accent who was frequently filmed standing in the desert, taunting Barack Obama and David Cameron before then beheading a hostage.  In total, Jihadi John was filmed either beheading or directing others to behead 29 hostages.  Among his victims were American journalist James Foley and British aid worker David Haines.

Up until he was apparently blown up by a drone strike in 2015, Jihadi John was, for many of us in the West, the best-known member of ISIS.  When we heard the word “ISIS,” he was the one we pictured.  Because his face was always covered, his identity was unknown.  All we knew about him was that he spoke perfect English with a British accent.  He was like a creature sprung from a nightmare, a monster who materialized out of nowhere and taunted us for our inability to defeat him.  There was much speculation about who Jihadi John was.  Even after we found out that he was probably a Kuwait-born British citizen named Mohammed Emwazi, we still wondered how this man came to be standing in the desert, being filmed as he committed terrible crimes.

The new HBO documentary, Unmasking Jihadi John, is an investigation into the origins of terrorism.  The film attempts to reconstruct Emwazi’s early life as an outsider in the UK.  His teachers describe him as being quiet and somewhat forgettable.  Video from that period shows a skinny and awkward-looking teenager, one who covered his mouth whenever he spoke because he had once been taunted for having bad breath.  When he was ten, he wrote that he wanted to be a soccer player.  A few years later, he was caught on video, smiling while sitting in a computer lab.  And then, just a few years after that, he was in Syria, committing horrific acts of evil.  And make no mistake about it — the Emwazi who we see waving a knife while condemning the West is evil.  Evil comes in many disguises and will often try to justify itself by hijacking a religion or an ideology.  But in the end, evil is evil.

Because Emwazi was vaporized in 2015, he’s not around to explain just what exactly led him to join ISIS.  The film speculates that Emwazi initially joined because he was looking for both a surrogate family and a place where he actually belonged.  The documentary contains clips from several ISIS propaganda videos and what’s interesting is that the images that ISIS used — children playing in the streets, men working together to rebuild a city, and friends hugging each other — are many of the same images that one would expect to find in western advertising.  They’re seductive images, ones that offer up a promise of a better life as long as you follow orders and don’t question authority.  They were exactly the type of images designed to appeal to someone like Emwazi (and countless others), who had a need to feel as if they belonged to something bigger than themselves.

If the first half of the documentary focuses on Emwazi and the founding of ISIS, the second half deals with the aftermath of Emwazi’s actions.  Interviews, with the hostages who survived and the families of those who did not, drive home the pain that was caused by the actions of ISIS as a whole and Emwazi in specific.  It’s in those interviews that we are reminded that Emwazi’s evil cannot be excused by a turbulent childhood or misplaced idealism.  Towards the end of the documentary, the man who controlled the drone that fired the missile that ended Emwazi’s life is interviewed.  When we watch the grainy and coldly impersonal footage of Emwazi’s car blowing up, we feel no sympathy for the man who was called Jihadi John.   As to whether or not there’s joy to be found there, well, that’s up to the viewer to decide for themselves.

It’s a compelling documentary but it’s also frustrating, if just because it poses a question that may be impossible to answer.  Why does evil exist?  How can one go from being a normal, if awkward, teenager to being a savage murderer?  Like the rest of us, the documentary can only wonder why.

Film Review: The Top Rope (dir by Cody Broadway)


About halfway through the 20 minute documentary, The Top Rope, a soft-spoken, bearded man named Billy Gray says, “It’s how I’m wired.”

Billy is explaining why he spends most of his time playing a character named Hunter Grey, a viking who is, at one point, seen carrying a big axe.  (By being a viking, he explains, he can make people laugh while still being believably intimidating.)  Billy, who was a championship wrestler in high school and who comes from a long line of wrestlers, now makes his living traveling the pro wrestling circuit in Colorado.  It’s hardly glamorous.  Billy tells us stories about having to change in parking lots and says that if you have a locker room, you should consider yourself to be lucky.  He also tells us about how his family was initially dismissive of his career and how it took a while before they actually started coming to his matches.  But, whenever we actually see Billy performing and in the ring, we understand why he does it.  The crowds love watching him.  When Billy Gray’s in that ring, he’s a star.

Billy is one of several wrestlers to be interviewed in The Top Rope.  Considering that one of the main appeals of pro-wrestling is the flamboyance of the people involved, it’s tempting to be surprised to discover that, outside the ring, the majority of the participants come across as being rather soft-spoken.  Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all.  One of the joys of performing, after all, is assuming a new and different persona.

For instance, a wrestler named Zach Anaya is obviously somewhat bemused with his villain status but, when we see him in the ring, we see someone who is truly enjoying playing his role.  A scene in which he jumped off a ledge and landed on top of two wrestlers below left me cringing because you could tell that, for all the talk about how pro-wrestling matches are essentially a type of performance art, the participants can still get seriously injured.  Scripted or not scripted, you have to be willing to push yourself to extremes in order to pursue it.

Also interviewed is Curtis Cole, a wrestler who rather touchingly talks about how he used to watch wrestling with his mother.  You get the feeling that, to a certain extent, he’s wrestling in her memory.  Cole also discusses the importance of having a storyline in the ring.  Without a storyline, it’s just two guys jumping on each other.  With a storyline, it becomes an epic battle of good and evil.  Cole tears up while discussing once past storyline and I have to admit that he got so emotional that even I, who has never even watched a wrestling match, started to get emotional too.  In a film full of great storytellers, Curtis Cole might be the best.

This documentary was directed by Cody Broadway, who previously directed 4 Quarters of Silence, a film about the Texas School for The Deaf’s football team.  He brings the same empathetic touch to this film.  Though the film did not make me a pro wrestling fan (to misquote Billy Gray, it’s just not how I’m wired), it did make me a fan of the men who were interviewed and it made me happy that they have this in their lives.  We’re all wired differently but, as this film demonstrates, there’s a place for all of us if we’re willing to look for it.

Film Review: Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (dir by Errol Morris)


This 1999 documentary provides a disturbing portrait of an absolute moron.

Of course, when we first see and hear Fred Leuchter, Jr., he doesn’t seem like a moron.  He definitely comes across as being a bit eccentric and maybe just a little bit off but, at first sight, he’s actually kind of likable.  As he explains it, he grew up in the United States prison system.  His father worked in prison administration and one of Fred’s earliest memories was sitting in an electric chair.  Fred grew up to be an engineer and, concerned that America’s execution methods were cruel and potentially dangerous to even those who weren’t being executed, he decided to dedicate his life to redesigning electric chairs and gas chambers.  He even built his own lethal injection machine, all designed to make sure that the condemned felt as little pain as possible while dying.  As Fred explains it, he supports capital punishment but “I don’t support torture.”

Fred Leuchter soon came to be recognized as one of America’s leading experts on execution devices.  As he himself admits, that’s largely because he was American’s only expert on the way that people are legally executed.  Whereas most people deliberately went out of their way not to learn the specifics of what happens when someone is put to death, Fred made it his life’s purpose.  After redesigning an electric chair in Tennessee, Fred was soon being summoned to other states so that he could refurbish and, in many cases, redesign their execution machinery.  For the first 30 minutes of the documentary, Fred explains what it’s like to be an expert on executions and it’s hard not to like this nerdy, self-described “humanitarian.”  If anything, you spend the first part of this documentary considering the oddness of finding a humane way to execute the condemned.  America prides itself on both it’s rejection of cruel and unusual punishment and it’s willingness to put criminals to death.  It’s an odd combination and, briefly, Leuchter seems like the embodiment of those two contrasting positions.

This changes during the documentary’s second half.  That’s when we learn how, in 1988, Leuchter was hired by a German anti-Semite named Ernst Zundel.  Zundel was being tried in Canada, charged with publishing and shipping works of Holocaust denial.  For a fee of $30,000, Leuchter spent his honeymoon in Poland, went to Auschwitz, and personally “inspected” the gas chambers.  Because Leuchter brought a camera crew with him, his every action was recorded.

We watch as Leuchter and his assistants sneak into the gas chamber and proceed to clumsily start chipping away at the walls.  We listen as Leuchter goes on and on about how he doesn’t feel that the gas chamber was actually a gas chamber because it just seems too impractical to him.  If they wanted to executed a large group of people at once, why didn’t the Nazis use the gallows? Leuchter wonders.  (They did.)  Why didn’t the Nazis use firing squads?  Leuchter asks.  (They did.)  Even before Leuchter returns to America, he’s made it clear that his mind is made up.  He can’t understand why the Nazis would have done what they did and therefore, in his mind, that means they didn’t do it.  After all, Leuchter’s an expert.  He’s Mr. Death.

He’s also a moron and, by the time he starts cheerfully talking about all the effort that went into smuggling the wall chips out of Germany, whatever likability he once had has vanished.  Watching this film, I found myself wishing for a time machine so that I could go back in the past and throw something at him.  You just want him to shut up for a minute and realize that what he’s saying makes no sense.  Not that it would make any difference, of course.  Leuchter is too proud of himself for having discovered “the truth” to actually consider that he could be wrong.

When Leuchter’s samples are tested for trace amounts of poison gas, they come back negative.  Leuchter announces that this means that the Holocaust never happened and he writes up the infamous Leuchter Report, which is still regularly cited as evidence by Neo-Nazi groups and anti-Semitic historians like David Irving.  However, as Dutch historian Robert Jan van Pelt explains (and, as we’ve already seen in the video that Leuchter himself shot at Auschwitz), Leuchter not only did not take a big enough sample but he was so clumsy in the way that he transported it that he diluted the sample as well.  Even beyond all that, it would be very unusual for cyanide residue to still present after forty years of everyday wear and tear.

None of this matters, of course, to Fred Leuchter.  With the publication of the Leuchter Report, he becomes a fixture on the Holocaust denial circuit.  (We see an edition of the Leuchter Report that was published and distributed by the Aryan Nations.)  Suddenly, Leuchter has fans.  In his own sad and pathetic way, he’s become a celebrity and we see him beaming as he stands on the stage of a Neo-Nazi conference.  Meanwhile, his wife leaves him.  And prisons stop using him as a consultant, especially after they discover that he was never actually licensed to practice engineering.  Financially bereft, Leuchter even resorts to trying to sell one of his beloved “execution devices,” putting an ad in the classifieds.  (Needless to say, things don’t go well.)  Looking over the ruins of his life, who does Leuchter blame for his troubles?  “Jewish groups,” he says before then going on to assure us that some of his best friends were and are Jewish.  Was Leuchter always an anti-Semite or did he become one because he needed someone to blame for his own self-destruction?  That’s a question that the viewer will have to answer for themselves.

Mr. Death is a disturbing portrait of a rather sad and pathetic figure, a man who fell victim to his own arrogance and hubris and who, as opposed to seeking redemption, instead allied himself with the only people ignorant and hateful enough to still embrace him.  As is his style, documentarian Errol Morris interviews Leuchter’s critics but refrains from personally arguing with Leuchter, instead basically giving the self-described execution expert just enough rope to hang himself.  (Morris does, at one point, ask Leuchter if he’s ever considered that he might be wrong.  Not surprisingly, Leuchter claims that he has not and seems to be confused by the question.)  In the end, it’s impossible to feel sorry for Leuchter.  The nerdy humanitarian who opposed torture had been replaced by a self-pitying Holocaust denier.  By the end of the film, Fred A Leuchter, Jr. and his report have become a reminder of the damage that can be done by one dangerously ignorant man.

Remembering Avicii: Avicii: True Stories (dir by Levan Tsikurishvili)


It was a year ago today that we learned of the passing of Tim Bergling, who was better known as Avicii.  For those of us who loved Avicii’s music and who followed him throughout not only his career but also through his multiple health issues and his widely publicized retirement from touring, the loss of Avicii is one that we have yet to recover from.

On this sad anniversary, I’m thinking about the first time that I watched Avicii: True Stories on Netflix.  This documentary, which covered the majority of Avicii’s career — from his rise to his eventual retirement, was released in Europe six months before his death.  In the U.S., it was released on Netflix on December 14th, 2018.  It’s not always an easy documentary to watch but I recommend it to anyone who loved Avicii’s music or to anyone who is just curious about the pressures that go with being a star.

Featuring interviews with not only Avicii but also his collaborators, the film follows Avicii as he quickly goes from being just being one of the many people posting remixes on online forums to being one of the top and most important DJs in the world.  We watch as Avicii maintains a hectic schedule of nonstop touring, often sacrificing both his physical and mental health in the process.  Avicii ends up in the hospital, suffering from acute pancreatitis.  Later, he again ends up in the hospital, this time to have both his appendix and his gall bladder removed.  The film makes no attempt to hide the decadence that goes along with touring but, in its best moments, it also highlights the conflict that arises from having to be both Tim Bergling, an anxious young man who finds a much-needed escape in music, and Avicii, the superstar who has to be on every night.

When we first meet Tim, he seems young and hopeful and enthusiastic.  Halfway through the film, an exhaustion starts to creep into his voice and, by the end of the film, he’s become far more world-weary.  As we watch Tim struggle with the weight of being Avicii, we’re also aware of the people around him, whose careers and finances are pretty much dependent on making sure that Tim never stops being Avicii, regardless of how much damage it does to him mentally and physically.  Throughout it all, one thing remains consistent and that is Tim’s love of music.  It’s only when creating and talking about music that Tim seems to be truly happy.  It’s his escape from a world that often seems like it’s conspiring to swallow him whole.

The film ends on what should have been a happy note.  Tim announces his retirement from touring and the film ends with him, in good spirits, on a beautiful beach.  Tim seems like he’s finally found some happiness and a chance at the inner peace that stardom often denied him.  Beyond a title card (which was added for the film’s U.S. release), Avicii: True Stories does not deal with Tim’s death but it still haunts every minute of the film.  Watching this documentary, it’s impossible not to mourn what the world lost when it lost Tim Bergling.  The film stands as both a tribute to his talent and a portrait of a good and likable man struggling to escape his demons.

Tim “Avicii” Bergling, rest in peace.

Film Review: The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley (dir by Alex Gibney)


Oh my God, this was such a creepy documentary!

The Inventor tells the story of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, who, at one point, Forbes named the wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America, and who is currently facing criminal charges of defrauding not only her investors but also a countless number of doctors and patients.  After dropping out of college, Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos, a Silicon Valley-based company that claimed it had devised a method that would revolutionize how blood was tested and which would lead to people leading longer and healthier lives.  (“No one will have to say an early goodbye,” as Elizabeth put it.)  It all had to do with a blood-testing device called the Edison, a device that Holmes designed, patented, and made a fortune by licensing.  That the Edison didn’t actually do what Holmes claimed that it did put lives at risk and ultimately led to her downfall.

So, what makes The Inventor such a creepy documentary?  A lot of it has to do with the fact that Elizabeth Holmes herself comes across as being so creepy.  With her endless supply of black turtlenecks and her rather monotonous (not to mention notably deep) voice, she comes across as being a cult leader in the making.  When we see archival footage of her being interviewed or of her giving a speech to her worshipful employees, she has the type of demented gleam in her eye that one would normally associate with a particularly enthusiastic Bond villain.  When her former employees talk about her, they not only mention her drive and her dedication but they also mention the fact that she rarely blinked.  In fact, she so rarely blinked that other people also felt as if they shouldn’t blink in her presence.  Theranos was a company full of people with thousand-yard stares.

Despite the fact that, as many people point out, Elizabeth Holmes had no experience in the medical field and that the majority of her lies were easily exposed, she still had little trouble getting wealthy and powerful men to invest in her company.  Among those who invested in Theranos and sat on its board of directors: two former secretaries of state, one former and one future secretary of defense, and several prominent businessmen.  Though the documentary doesn’t explore this angle as perhaps it should have, it’s interesting to note that the majority of Holmes’s backers and defenders were 1) elderly and 2) male.  The one female investor that Holmes tried to bring in easily saw through Holmes’s lies.  On the other hand, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz became enthusiastic backers of Holmes and her “vision.”  Meanwhile, attorney David Boies — who was best-known for being Al Gore’s personal attorney and who later was hired to head up Harvey Weinstein’s defense team — is on hand to intimidate any Theranos employees who might be on the verge of turning into a whistleblower.  Elizabeth Holmes may currently be an indicted pariah but, before that, she spent many years as a proud member of the American establishment.

In fact, several other members of the Establishment makes cameo appearances in The Inventor.  At one point, we see Holmes being interviewed by Bill Clinton.  At another point, Joe Biden stops by Theranos and praises the company.  We see pictures of Elizabeth Holmes in the Oval Office, visiting with Barack Obama.  Holmes is put on the covers of magazines.  Numerous publications declare her to be the next Steve Jobs.  She’s held up as the future of not just blood testing but also the future of business.  It’s only after one reporter has the courage to actually investigate her claims and two employees risk their futures to tell the truth about what they saw at Theranos that Elizabeth Holmes is revealed to be a fabulist and a con artist.  Was she ever sincere in her desire to make the world a better place or was that just another part of her carefully constructed persona?  The Inventor is full of people still struggling to answer that question for themselves.

The Inventor was directed by Alex Gibney.  Gibney previous directed the Going Clear, an expose of Scientology.  Watching The Inventor, it’s hard not to make comparisons between Scientology and the cults of Silicon Valley.  Watching Elizabeth Holmes give a speech to her employees is like watching that infamous video of Tom Cruise pay homage to L. Ron Hubbard.  And just as Scientology takes advantage of those with a need to believe in something bigger than them, Elizabeth Holmes did the same thing.  Everyone wanted the promises of Homes, Theranos, and the Edison machine to be true.  They wanted it to be true so much that they became blind to the reality that was right in front of them.

The Inventor is a fascinating documentary about power, wealth, fraud, and the prison of belief.  It can currently be seen on HBO.

 

 

Spring Breakdown #7: FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (dir by Chris Smith)


So, last night, I finally watched FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, the Netflix documentary about the infamous Fyre Festial.

As you may remember, the Fyre Festival was supposed to be the greatest party of 2017.  Influencers played it up on Instagram.  A commercial for it, one that featured the world’s top models on a beautiful island, was pretty much inescapable on Facebook.  It was going to be the greatest musical festival of all time, with luxury villas and yachts and private chefs and …. Blink-182?  Even before the entire festival was revealed to be a massive fraud, I have to admit that I was kind of like, “All this for Blink-182?”

Anyway, the festival did turn out to be a disaster.  A lot of people paid a lot of money to end up on the beach, staying in rain-soaked FEMA tents and eating pre-packaged sandwiches.  The bands cancelled so there wasn’t even any music.  After the festival was officially canceled, several people found themselves stranded on the island.  Those of us who weren’t there followed the drama on twitter.  We joked about the Lord of the of Flies.  One of my favorite tweets about the whole mess compared it to an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  “The Gang Puts On A Music Festival.”

At the time, very few people had much sympathy for anyone involved in the Fyre Festival.  Not only did the organizers seem to be a group of insufferable douchebags but so did the people who paid thousands for dollars for a FEMA tent, a cheese sandwich, and Blink-182.  Having now watched the Netflix documentary …. well, I still don’t have much sympathy for the organizers or the participants.

I do have sympathy for the people who actually lived in the island.  They were taken advantage of and most of them received no financial compensation for the work that they put into the festival.  While we were all laughing on twitter, one poor restaurant owner lost a fortune feeding all of the people who were stranded in the Bahamas.  While we were making jokes, the people who actually did all the work went unpaid.

The documentary starts with festival organizer Billy McFarland and celebrity co-sponsor Ja Rule annoying Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajowski, and Hailey Baldwin on an island that once belonged to drug lord Pablo Escobar and it ends with McFarland heading for federal prison.  Billy McFarland emerges as a professional con man who built his success by exploiting people’s desire to be a part of an “exclusive” club.  Before Fyre, McFarland ran a credit card company.  Even after the disaster of the Fyre Festival, McFarland continued to use the Fyre e-mail list to try to sell VIP access that he couldn’t actually provide.  Even when under indictment, McFarland allows himself to be filmed while he brags about “hustling.”  He really can’t help himself.

Ultimately, this documentary works best as a portrait of the power of fame.  From the start, it’s obvious that the festival is going to be a disaster.  Everyone who is interviewed states that, at no point, did they think Fyre would be a success.  (One person explains that it takes at least a year to set up a successful music festival.  Fyre tried to do it in a matter of weeks.)  But, because Billy McFarland paid Kendall Jenner and a bunch of other social media superstars to promote the festival, people who should have known better paid a lot of money for a tent and a stale sandwich.  McFarland may not have known how to put on a music festival but he definitely knew how to exploit our celebrity-obsessed culture.

During the documentary, one of the festival’s organizers — Andy — tells a story about how he was prepared to give a customs official oral sex in order to get him to release a delivery of Evian water.  Reportedly, due to the success of the documentary and the popularity of that anecdote, Andy will be getting his own reality show.  That seems like a fitting coda for the whole thing.

Film Review: Leaving Neverland (dir by Dan Reed)


“Is it okay to still listen to the music of Michael Jackson?”

Over the past few days, I’ve seen many different variations of that headline.  The Guardian asked, “Can We Still Listen To Michael Jackson?” From Slate: “Will Michael Jackson songs still play at weddings?  We asked three DJs.”  And, of course, Entertainment Weekly chimed in with: “Can we still listen to Michael Jackson’s music after HBO doc Leaving Neverland?” As far as I know, the Guardian has yet to accuse Entertainment Weekly of headline plagiarism.  That’s how seriously this question is being considered.

Fortunately, for me, it’s not a question that I have to answer.  Michael Jackson’s music has never been an important part of my life.  All of the songs and albums that people rave about — Thriller, Bad, that song about the rat — were all pretty much before my time.  Usually, whenever I have heard any of those so-called classics, my usual reaction has been that 1) they’re ludicrously overproduced and 2) they tend to drag on forever.  (Seriously, there’s no reason to ask Annie if she’s okay that many times.)  Some people grew up with the idea of Michael Jackson being the King of Pop and a musical innovator.  I grew up with the idea of Michael Jackson being a rather frightening eccentric who didn’t appear to have a nose and who wrote songs about how unfair it was that the world wouldn’t accept that he just really, really enjoyed the company of children.  Since neither Jackson nor his music have ever been an important part of my life, it’s rather easy for me to shrug and say, “Sure, let us never hear his music again.”

Still, there are many people debating the question of whether or not it’s time to cancel the legacy of Michael Jackson.  That’s because of Leaving Neverland, a 4-hour documentary that premiered at Sundance and which recently aired on HBO.  Leaving Neverland deals with two men — choreographer Wade Robson and former actor Jimmy Safechuck — who claim that they were both sexually abused by Michael Jackson as children.  Interviewed separately, both Robson and Safechuck tell nearly identical stories about first meeting Jackson, being invited into the sanctuary of Jackson’s Neverland, and eventually being brainwashed, abused, and eventually abandoned by Jackson.  It’s not just that Robson and Safechuck both separately tell the same story.  It’s also that the details will be familiar to anyone who has ever been abused.  The grooming.  The manipulation.  The thrill of sharing a secret eventually giving way to the guilt of feeling that you’re somehow at fault.   And, of course, the combination of fear and denial that both Robson and Safechuck say initially caused them to lie and deny having been abused by Jackson.  Both men talk about how Jackson used their own broken families to control them, suggesting that only he understood what they were going through and that they were only truly safe when they were with him.  Jimmy Safechuck, in particular, speaks in the haunted manner and nervous cadences of a survivor.  Their stories are frequently harrowing and, watching the documentary, one can understand why counselors were on hand for the Sundance showing.

That said, those who have complained that Leaving Neverland is a very one-sided affair do have a point.  (To see what many of Michael Jackson’s supporters have to say about the men and their stories, check out #mjinnocent on twitter.Leaving Neverland is very much a product of our current cancel culture.  From the start it clearly chooses a side and, for four hours, it focuses only on that side.  Far more attention is paid to the civil suit that Jackson settled out of court than the criminal trial in which Jackson was acquitted.  Much has been made on twitter about inconsistencies in Safechuck and Robson’s stories.  Yet, are those inconsistencies the result of an intentional attempt to subvert the truth or are they the result of the trauma that the two men suffered at the hands of their abuser?  When I checked in on twitter during the documentary’s airing, it was fascinating to watch as the two camps debated who should be cancelled, Michael Jackson for being accused of pedophilia or Wade Robson for saying that Jackson’s hair felt like a brillo pad.

Ultimately, Leaving Neverland is a portrait of the power of fame.  One imagines that if a stranger had approached the mothers of Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck and said that he wanted to spend a weekend sleeping in the same bed as their sons, the mothers would have a very different response than they did when Michael Jackson did essentially just that.  For all the red flags to be found in Jackson’s public behavior, he was often dismissed as just being an eccentric artist, a harmless Peter Pan-like figure.  (You have to wonder if there was no one in his camp who was willing to say, “Y’know, Michael, maybe you should stop being photographed with little boys for a while.”)  One of the more interesting things about the documentary is to see how quickly Jackson recovered from the 1993 abuse allegations.  The same reporters who very gravely report the allegations about Jackson in ’93 are later seen glibly referring to Jackson as being the “king of pop,” just a few years later.

Leaving Neverland is a powerful documentary but I doubt it will change anyone’s mind.  That’s one of the dangers that comes from picking a side as deliberately and unapologetically as this documentary does.  Your argument may be great but only those who agree with you are going to listen.  Those who support Jackson will see it as being a hit piece.  Those who believe Jackson was guilty will see the documentary as being validation.  Ultimately, whether or not it’s still okay to listen to Michael Jackson’s music is a decision that only you can make for yourself.