Screened on HBO following the broadcast of the second half of Leaving Neverland (2019) on March 4, Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland is a 60-minute interview with Michael Jackson-accusers Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, and director Dan Reed. Recorded on March 2, the interview took place after a screening of the full four hours of the film, shown to a studio audience made up entirely of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. And really, there isn't a huge amount to say about it. It's your standard Oprah Winfrey interview, elaborating on some of the film's themes, and allowing Winfrey to pre-empt some of the criticisms that would be aimed at it (primarily, why did Wade lie so often, repeatedly denying anything sexual had ever taken place between himself and Jackson, including on the witness stand in 2005; and how does the fact that both Wade and James are currently involved in litigation against the Jackson estate factor into the accusations, if at all).
A couple of things jump out at you during the interview. For example, during Leaving Neverland, it's very apparent that Wade and James couldn't be more different, despite the similarities of their stories. Wade, who is used to talking to journalists and appearing in the public eye, is equal parts quiet anger and wilful determination, whereas James is far more melancholy and subdued, his haunted psychology more apparent at the surface level. This contrast is even more apparent here than in the film. In the interview, Wade does a good 80% of the talking, and seems entirely at ease in his surroundings. James, however, looks like he's about to burst into tears for the entire thing, his body language is awkward, and when Oprah does address him, his voice wavers as he stumbles through what he's trying to say.
Something else worth noting is that After Neverland covers something only very briefly addressed in the film - the litigation that both men are pursuing against the Jackson estate. In Leaving Neverland, it's mentioned once that Wade is suing the estate, but James's pursuit of legal redress is never brought up. Here, Winfrey addresses what would go on to be one of the most controversial elements of the film, asking, "Did you think that you were owed money, that you should have some money?" In response, Wade states, "that wasn't a thought of mine, it's just that that's the legal system, and what other scenario was the estate and Michael's companies going to have to listen, going to have to sit there? And also, a big piece for me was - Michael trained me and forced me to tell the lie for so many years, and particularly on the stand, and those were really traumatising experiences that had a huge impact on the rest of my life. So the feeling was I want an opportunity to reprocess that experience, I want to get on the stand again because now I'm able to tell the truth."
Probably the most distasteful element of the interview is how self-congratulatory Winfrey herself is. For example, one of the first things she says is, "in 25 years of the Oprah Show, I taped 217 episodes on sexual abuse, and 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." This comes up again after Wade says, "one of the biggest things that I kept bringing to therapy; what does it mean that it felt good, what does that mean about me?" In response, Winfrey says, "that's one of the reasons it's so confusing for children. When I said this years ago, people said I was crazy." This is more than a little inappropriate in the context, with Winfrey essentially turning the interview into a validation of the pioneering nature of how she covered child sexual abuse over the years.
Having said that, however, she does make a very valid point soon after, arguing that, "you want to believe it's sexual assault and you're being thrown up against the wall, and you're being raped. And I have said for years, if the abuser is any good, you won't even know it's happened, you will be in it and you won't even know it's happened, and if the abuser is any good he or she is going to make you feel like you're part of it." That's an insightful comment, but it would have been a lot more powerful if it wasn't dripping with self-congratulation.
Nevertheless, this tendency aside, this is an interesting interview, and makes for a fine companion to the film, covering some of the more contentious issues in a little more detail and providing some further insight into the filmmaking process.
Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland (2019) 1080p
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- Run Time:
- 58 min
- IMDB Rating:
- 6.5 / 10
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