The Estate of Michael Jackson continued its fight against HBO and its new documentary “Leaving Neverland” on Thursday, suing the cable outlet for violating the terms of an agreement HBO had with Jackson dating back to 1992.
The estate is seeking damages that it says could exceed more than $100 million.
“Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged,” HBO said in a statement. “HBO will move forward with the airing of the two-part documentary on March 3 and 4. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”
In the lawsuit, the estate says that with the “Leaving Neverland” documentary, HBO has violated a non-disparagement clause that was part of an agreement the two sides had which granted HBO the right to air Jackson’s Dangerous World Tour live.
“HBO breached its agreement not to disparage Michael Jackson by producing and selling to the public a one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself,” the estate’s attorney Howard Weitzman said in a statement. “HBO could have and should have ensured that ‘Leaving Neverland’ was properly sourced, fact checked and a fair and balanced representation. Instead they chose to fund and produce a film where they knew the two subjects had for many years testified under oath and told family, friends and law enforcement that Mr. Jackson did nothing inappropriate to either of them.”
“Nearly four years after Michael died they suddenly changed their recollections, sued the Estate of Michael Jackson for hundreds of millions of dollars and had all of their lawsuits dismissed. Yet they are still seeking money, having appealed,” Weitzman continued. “HBO and the director were well aware of their financial motives and that ample opposing facts are available from numerous sources, but made the unconscionable decision to bury any evidence casting doubt on their chosen narrative. Had they made an objective film it would have allowed viewers to make up their own minds about these allegations, instead of having a television network dictate to them that they must accept these false claims about Michael Jackson.”
“Leaving Neverland,” which is set to premiere on HBO on Sunday, March 3, is a four-hour documentary by director Dan Reed that features detailed accounts from two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who say Jackson molested them when they were underage boys. The film premiered during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival last month, and the screening required extra security amid fears that protesters would try to disrupt the film.
The Jackson estate has vehemently opposed the documentary, calling it “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death.”
“Michael Jackson is innocent. Period,” begins the 53-page lawsuit, before delving into the 2005 trial in which Jackson was charged with and found not guilty of molesting a 13-year-old boy.
“Ten years after his passing, there are still those out to profit from his enormous worldwide success and take advantage of his eccentricities,” the lawsuit reads. “Michael is an easy target because he is not here to defend himself, and the law does not protect the deceased from defamation, no matter how extreme the lies are. Nothing and no one can rewrite the facts which show that Michael Jackson is indeed innocent of the charges being levied at him by HBO in its ‘documentary’ ‘Leaving Neverland.’”
HBO boss Casey Bloys told TheWrap during TCA that the network had no plans not to air the documentary or to edit its contents, despite reports at the time that HBO might be reconsidering the documentary.
“There is no hesitation, there are no plans to not air it,” Bloys told TheWrap.
“All I ask of this is that people watch it and judge for themselves,” he said of the film. “I think you will see a very powerful, very moving, disturbing documentary. Once people see it, they can decide for themselves.”
Bloys said at the time that HBO wasn’t dealing with any legal issues or concerns in relation to “Leaving Neverland,” and that the documentary had cleared a check with the legal department.