Ten years after Michael Jackson’s death, his legacy is murkier than ever

Amani Sharmin Akhtar

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. Many fans, close friends and Jackson family members will remember the nostalgia of that day, when the late “King of Pop” was rushed to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical centre amidst the media frenzy and, much to the disbelief of many, soon pronounced dead.

Fast forward to 2019, however, and it’s clear commemorating his legacy will never be quite as simple now as it was back then. Earlier this year, Jackson was hit with fresh allegations of child sexual abuse, with Wade Robson and James Safechuck telling their stories on Dan Reed’s documentary Leaving Neverland. These allegations have been denied by family members and the Jackson estate.

Despite this, 25 June will be commemorated across many countries. The #HonourMJ hashtag pays tribute online to the late star by doing or supporting the work he did.

Melanie Freeman, a fan and a board member of the Michael Jackson Justice Project, which dispels false media stories around the star, has planned the “MJ love march and rally” in Los Angeles. Armed with banners of love and support, they will march this evening from Highland Boulevard to Jackson’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star. It is significant because it’s the first of such a rally in the US since the documentary aired.

Robyn Starkand heads the One Rose for Michael Jackson project, which has sold over eight thousand red roses. They’ve been laid out on holy terrace where Jackson is buried and donations will go to various charities across LA.

For some, the day will be shadowed by a documentary which can only be described as graphic, disturbing and stomach-churning. For Jackson’s fans, known as Moonwalkers, this is a testing time. Since the documentary aired, challenges against the accusers’ version of events have been launched, including what Jackson biographer, Mike Smallcombe, called “inconsistencies” regarding Safechuck’s accusation that he was abused in a train station on Jackson’s property. However, accounts from two former bodyguards to the singer seem to corroborate Safechuck’s claims.

Whether or not those “inconsistencies” can be proven, I believe the bigger question is what impact this has all had on Jackson’s legacy. I’d say it’s been huge. The movement to mute Jackson led to some radio stations dropping his music. The National Football Museum in Manchester, England removed a statue which was erected following his death. A pair of Jackson’s iconic gloves, along with a fedora and an autographed poster, were removed from a children’s museum in Indianapolis. Plans to remove Jackson’s name at Gardner Elementary School where he attended briefly were scrapped.

However, since his death, the Jackson estate has profited around $2.4bn from the sale of his half of the catalogue to Sony and from his EMI music publishing stake, while his songs were boosted on the charts following the documentary. Nielsen music, for example, reported that both Jackson’s song and album sales increased after the documentary premiered. Video and audio streams saw an increase of 6 per cent with 19.7 million play from 3-5 March.

Though Jackson’s public image seems to have been tethered to these allegations, as it was in 1993 and 2005 following child sexual abuse allegations being brought against him, it’s undeniable that he remains highly popular. I wouldn’t expect anything less of someone of that calibre and magnitude, even in the face of the aforementioned historic cases. His music is still played across the globe; his memorabilia continues to sell and so does his merchandise; his artefacts and images are still on display. Many even within the entertainment industry believe his legacy could withstand the effects of Leaving Neverland.

To some of us, he was a mercurial man, elusive and mysterious but his family and those who worked with him for decades knew him best.

In the aftermath of the downfall of high profile figures like R Kelly and Harvey Weinstein, I understand why ignoring the allegations against Jackson may not be an option for some, but I also understand why people are still so keen to rally behind him. Jackson is no longer alive to stand trial again. And while the hype around Leaving Neverland may or may not die out soon, I firmly believe his legacy will live on. How you choose to remember Jackson is up to you.