That’s a big statement, I know. But…it’s true. Regardless if you believe Michael Jackson is innocent, guilty, have no opinion, or are all of the above, this is the documentary to see.
For the superfans among us that are reading this: I’ll spare you the hassle–there aren’t any bombshells, spoilers, or anything that we don’t already know. But, stick with me.
To the lay readers or casual fans: this is what I hoped we could show you all along. It removes the cacophony of the #MJfam flooding your Twitter mentions, mutes any sensationalism, and presents the facts. Just facts.
I make no claims that I have any qualifications to critique filmmaking itself. While I was impressed with most of the editing and overall quality (with a few minor exceptions), my comments focus almost entirely on the content and its presentation.
Square One begins in 1993 with the Chandler incident. This is the case that started everything. Most people are aware that there was a teenage boy involved and a settlement for $20 million, and not much more than that. The reality is that the Chandler case is intricate and complex, and there’s no simple way to articulate that to someone who only wants to consume bite-size information. It’s why many fans simply point critics in the direction of several books, transcripts, and compilations…there is just a lot to take in.
I prefer to whet others’ curiosity: if you had a child in your life that was abused by someone with the kind of wealth and power Michael Jackson possessed, what would you want to happen? Would you go to the police first or sue them? What matters more: preventing this person from hurting anyone else or cashing in? What if the state in which you resided and the abuse occurred permitted you to sue a criminal defendant after the fact, so you could achieve both?
I’ve found if someone is willing to consider that and put themselves in Evan Chandler’s shoes, they’re often intrigued enough to peruse on their own, and will return to me with more questions or a reformed and informed opinion.
Until now, thanks to Danny Wu, there has been no one-stop-shop to summarize what is ultimately a complicated situation.
The information is organized well. I’ve been reading about and researching these cases for years, and never have I seen them presented on a timeline like this. Even though am familiar with and agree with all the details Wu included, it was the first time I appreciated and understood how quickly everything happened, and I’ve been learning about this since I knew how to internet myself in the mid and late 90s.
The bulk of the documentary focuses on the Chandler case, but excellently bridges the era between the 1994 settlement and the 2003 Arvizo case that ultimately led to a trial. For that, I highly recommend tuning in to YouTube on October 5 to understand how the Chandler case lays the foundation for everything that happens.
It’s important to remember, Wu reminds us, that in 1993 there was no real internet. We didn’t have social media, or screenshots, or even some laws and policies that exist now because of this specific event. People who are old enough to remember what happened formed their opinion then and there, with a lot less knowledge and access to Michael Jackson than we have now. If what happened in 1993 occurred now, that is, for the first time to either a living or dead Michael Jackson, I believe things would be very different.
Ultimately, my favorite thing about the documentary is that…it doesn’t reek “Made for and by a Michael Jackson Fan™.”
Most especially since Leaving Neverland aired earlier this year, I’ve witnessed and experienced some of the worst of the fandom myself, and I don’t fault any doubters or critics for distancing themselves from otherwise compelling material. Us fans, in all our solidarity and devotion, can really be a lot to handle sometimes. We spin things, we’re aware of who Michael Jackson truly was as a person, we’re traumatized and disenfranchised and desperate for anyone to just listen, please…and some of us get way out of hand. No one wants to listen to that noise and I’ll make no excuse for out-of-line behavior.
There is no noise here. There are just facts and firsthand accounts of those who were present. There is no sensationalism, no off-topic showoffs of Michael’s philanthropy or stories of his humorous and curious nature. None of that. In fact, there is very little of Michael Jackson in it at all, and that is its greatest strength: it shifts the focus away from his eccentricities and fanfare and highlights who did what behind the scenes (and his back). And yet, without much Michael Jackson in it, it sucks you in. Even though I already knew the story, I found myself sitting up straighter and scribbling notes.
As I mentioned, there are some goofs here and there. A typo in one title screen, some style inconsistencies. I was a little put off by some interview segments where the subject wasn’t available and so Wu interviews them on his phone (and worse, the audio is a little sharp and bright; I cringed involuntarily a few times). Some edits looked a little rushed. But the timeline and story are clear and easy to follow and will finally explain everything we have been saying for years in a way that is much more digestible than poring over endless court transcripts and long, densely-worded books.
For those who are familiar with the source material, it will likely re-center your points of reference in the cases. For those who are new and willing to listen: thank you, and welcome.