HBO’s ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary will release as scheduled, according to network, despite a lawsuit submitted by the late Michael Jackson’s estate.
The estate of Michael Jackson has filed a lawsuit against HBO saying the network’s documentary about allegations of child sex abuse by the now-deceased legendary singer breached a previous agreement by the cable channel not to disparage him. The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. HBO could owe more than $100 million in damages for the estate’s alleged “reprehensible disparagement” of the “Thriller” singer in its production, Leaving Neverland. The amount owed “could exceed $100 million should HBO succeed in the damage it is intending to cause to the legacy of Michael Jackson,” according to court documents.
The complaint contends, “The Jackson Estate will seek all damages proximately caused by HBO’s reprehensible disparagement of Michael Jackson…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 documentary is due to be broadcast in early March after it already premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The estate’s suit is not seeking to prevent the broadcast of the documentary but claims it violates a clause in a 1992 contract for the network’s broadcast of Jackson’s “Dangerous” world tour. HBO had agreed that year not to disparage him “at that time or in the future” and if it does, the estate is apparently entitled to arbitration. A statute of limitations hasn’t been discussed in the current filing.
The lawsuit states, “HBO is profiting off the Dangerous World Tour by airing a ‘documentary’ that falsely claims Michael Jackson was abusing children on the same tour. It is hard to imagine a more direct violation of the non-disparagement clause.”
In the film, two men, now in their 30s, say they were befriended by Jackson and were sexually abused by him starting from when they were 7 and 10 years old. James Safechuck and Wade Robson filed lawsuits against the estate before both were ultimately dismissed in 2017. Jackson was acquitted at a 2005 criminal trial in California on charges of molesting a different, 13-year-old boy, at his Neverland Ranch. Rumors of sexual abuse occurring on the ranch have been pervasive. The singer passed in 2009.
“Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged,” HBO responded. “HBO will move forward with the airing of 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.”
Michael Jackson’s family has called Leaving Neverland and the media coverage of the accusations in it a “public lynching,” emphasizing that Jackson was deemed “100 percent innocent.”
Howard Weitzman, an attorney for the Jackson estate, said HBO “could have and should have ensured that Leaving Neverland was properly sourced, fact checked, and a fair and balanced representation.”
The world premiere at last month’s festival shocked viewers. The first trailer was released last week in both the U.S. and U.K. The footage shows home videos taken at the ranch with commentary from Safechuck and Robson.