Michael Jackson’s estate is suing HBO over the network’s plans to air a documentary, Leaving Neverland that alleges the late King of Pop to have sexually abused two young boys. The trailer of the documentary which was released last week gives viewers the dark tale-tell side of Jackson in which the supposed victims can be seen narrating their own story of sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson. The estate claims that by showing Leaving Neverland HBO is violating a non-disparagement clause from a 1992 contract. According to the suit, when HBO aired Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour, the clause precluded them from disparaging the singer in future works.
"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 four-hour, 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 suit urges HBO to take part in a public arbitration process and claims that it could cost the company up to $100m in damages.
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.
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.