Dave Chappelle has come under fire for his latest Netflix special in which he claims he does not believe Michael Jackson sexually assaulted young boys, and makes jokes at the expense of Jackson’s accusers.
In a stand-up set that seemed designed to provoke precisely the backlash that it was critiquing, Chappelle took aim at a prevailing callout culture that sees celebrities being held to account by audiences and in the media for perceived or actual crimes and for the offensive things they say.
He talked at length about the allegations of sexual assault against Jackson, who died in 2009, made by James Safechuck and Wade Robson in the HBO/Channel 4 documentary, Leaving Neverland.
Chappelle described the allegations in detail before complaining about the graphic descriptions in the documentary itself, and then said he didn’t believe Jackson’s accusers because actor Macaulay Culkin, who also spent time with Jackson as a child, hadn’t made accusations of his own.
Acknowledging that he was saying “something that I’m not allowed to say”, Chappelle also joked about how making such statements made him a “victim blamer”.
“If somebody come up to me like, ‘Dave, Dave, Chris Brown just beat up Rihanna!’ I’d be like, ‘Well, what did she do?’ ‘Dave! Michael Jackson was molesting children!’ Well, what were those kids wearing at the time?’” he said.
“But you know what, even if he did do it … it’s Michael Jackson. I know more than half the people in this room have been molested in their lives. But it wasn’t no goddamn Michael Jackson, was it?”
Chappelle also compared the Jackson allegations with those made by multiple women against singer R Kelly, which he said he did believe.
Robson and Safechuck, Jackson’s accusers, responded to the comedian’s set, with Robson saying: “He can say whatever he wants. It reveals him, not us.”
Robson’s lawyer Vince Finaldi said of Chappelle: “It’s unfortunate that he has chosen to use his platform to shame sexual abuse victims, and spread his ignorance of sexual abuse and the way it is perpetrated upon children, in an attempt to resurrect his career.”
Sticks & Stones is Chappelle’s third Netflix special, the first two of which were also widely criticised for their apparent homophobia and transphobia.