When Janet Jackson tapped Rick Murray‘s production company Workerbee to film her tour in 2017, he and director Benjamin Hirsch had a “secret mission” in mind. “From the moment we were invited, we were like, yeah, we’d love to come and make a tour documentary with you. However, it just felt that the Janet Jackson story hadn’t been told,” Murray tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Documentary panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “From Day 1 of doing out to make that tour documentary, our sort of secret mission, really, was to try and persuade her to do a much bigger project and to make a feature film that tells her angle of the whole Jackson story.”
The end result is Lifetime’s four-part documentary series “Janet Jackson,” directed by Hirsch and executive-produced by Murray and Jackson. However, Murray and Hirsch knew it wouldn’t be easy to get the superstar on board and initially looked at their secret mission as “wishful thinking.” Notoriously private, Jackson has also largely been out of the public eye since the infamous wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl in 2004 with Justin Timberlake. But after getting to know Hirsch during the tour, the Grammy winner started to open up to him. “He spent the whole tour with her, kind of sit her down and get more out of her, just talking about that particular moment in time. About three or four weeks into it, he called me in the middle of the night, really excited, and said, ‘We just sat down for a 20-minute interview but it went on for three hours and we spoke about everything,'” Murray recalls. “And a lot that interview formed a good chunk, actually, of the final four-part series that we made for Lifetime. That shows you how in-depth that was.”
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The docuseries features Jackson — who shared 7,000 home video tapes, which included footage of her and Michael Jackson writing “Scream” in his bedroom in his New York City apartment — discussing sensitive topics she has seldom addressed, such as her first two secret marriages, the child sexual abuse allegations against Michael, and of course the Super Bowl.
“Obviously we collaborated with Janet. It was an authorized doc, so she was an EP on the project and was able to work with us and formulate the way we were going to tell her story. But what we were really clear about was that if we’re really going to do this, we have to answer every single question. What those answers are, that’s your voice, this documentary is your voice, but we can’t have people watching, saying, ‘Well, why didn’t they ask her about that?'” Murray explains. “And I think that’s what we managed to achieve — this sort of honest roundup of everything, no matter how difficult it was. You got to hear her views on all these tricky subjects.”
In the Super Bowl section, Jackson reveals that she had advised Timberlake not to say anything because she knew she would be taking the heat for the snafu after he ripped off her top and exposed her breast during the halftime show. “It was kind of the media and the public that kind of blew it up and pointed at Janet and said, ‘Well, she’s to blame.’ So everyone jumped on her and 15, 20 years later, everyone jumped on Justin. But I guess the reality is those guys are friends and they’ve tried to deal with this crazy storm and what to say in public, and everything they would say would come back to bite them. And I think she just wanted to protect him and his mental health, as well as her own, because the whole thing was pretty nuts, the way that the world reacted to that,” Murray says. “It just felt like hysteria, really. And those guys are just friends. They’re not enemies as a result of it. Hopefully that came across.”
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