Michael Jackson’s estate has a big problem with HBO planning to air the controversial “Leaving Neverland” documentary this spring, and it's taking its issues to a courtroom. The late singer’s estate filed a lawsuit against the network on Thursday, accusing it of breaching a non-disparagement agreement included in a decades-old contract, Page Six reports.
“Leaving Neverland” focuses on the claims of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who say that Jackson molested them as children. The four-hour documentary may have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month to a standing ovation, but Jackson’s estate has been vocal in its disapproval of the film, having previously called it a “pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in” on the Jackson name. It doubled down on that position in the newly filed suit and accused HBO of violating an agreement it made with Jackson years before his death.
The network signed a contract with Jackson in 1992 when it agreed to air “Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour,” Jackson’s estate said in the suit. Part of that contract included an agreement that it would not disparage Jackson, but his estate feels that the documentary, which it calls “one-sided,” does just that.
“In producing this fictional work, HBO ignored its contractual obligation to Michael and his companies by disparaging both him and the Dangerous World Tour that HBO had previously profited from immensely,” the suit reads.
Jackson’s estate is asking the court to order a public arbitration and is seeking damages that could possibly exceed $100 million “should HBO succeed in the damage it is intending to cause to the legacy of Michael Jackson,” according to the 53-page suit.
HBO seems unmoved by what may be an impending legal battle, confirming in a statement obtained by CNN that it plans to air the documentary as scheduled.
“Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged,” its statement reads. “HBO will move forward with the airing of ‘Leaving Neverland,’ the two-part documentary, on March 3rd and 4th. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”
The Jackson estate has been steadfast in proclaiming that Michael was the victim of false allegations, and it did so again in its recent suit, even beginning the petition with, “Michael Jackson is innocent. Period.” It went on to call Jackson an “easy target,” due to the fact that he is “not here to defend himself, and the law does not protect the deceased from defamation, no matter how extreme the lies are.”
The suit also takes aim at Robson and Safechuck, referring to them as “known perjurers.” As children, both Safechuck and Robson told investigators that Jackson, who was previously charged with child molestation but ultimately acquitted in 2005, had never sexually abused them, according to the Associated Press. Both men have also filed lawsuits against the Jackson estate as adults, but their cases were dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out.
Robson addressed those who may not believe his story during a post-screening Q&A session at Sundance last month, Deadline reports.
“I don’t feel that like there is anything I need to say to them except that I understand that it is really hard for them to believe,” he said. “Even though it happened to me I still couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing, so I understand."
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