Pop star Michael Jackson’s estate is suing HBO for USD 100 million over the network’s plans to air Leaving Neverland documentary, which alleges the singer sexually abused two young boys.
The lawsuit claims that if HBO broadcasts Leaving Neverland as planned next month, it would breach non-disparagement language in a pact that allowed the channel to show “Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour” in 1992.
“HBO promised that ‘HBO shall not make any disparaging remarks concerning performer or any of his representatives, agents, or business practices or do any act that may harm or disparage or cause to lower in esteem the reputation or public image of performer.
“Other provisions in the agreement require HBO to notify and consult with Jackson and Optimum Productions if it wishes to air additional programming about Jackson,” the complaint obtained by The Hollywood Reporter read.
The two-part documentary, directed and produced by Dan Reed, screened for audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It focuses on longtime accusations of sexual abuse raised by Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 40.
The Jackson estate had called the film “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death.”
The lawsuit states in its opening sentence that “Michael Jackson is innocent. Period,” and recounts the criminal investigation and 2005 trial in which Jackson was acquitted, highlighting the conflicting statements through the years of Robson and Safechuck, who are described as “admitted perjurers” in the suit.
Both men told authorities that Jackson did not molest them, later claiming they were abused in lawsuits filed after the singer’s death and in graphic detail in Leaving Neverland.
In a statement, HBO has responded to the lawsuit, claiming that it will not affect their support of the documentary.
“Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged. HBO will move forward with the airing of Leaving Neverland, 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,” the statement read.
Leaving Neverland is set to air on HBO and Channel 4 next month.