Michael Jackson Estate Sues HBO for $100 Million Over 'Leaving Neverland' Documentary
By Antoinette Bueno
Kevork Djansezian-Pool/Getty Images
The Michael Jackson Estate is suing HBO over its documentary, Leaving Neverland, which details sexual abuse allegations against the late singer by two of his accusers, James Safechuck and Wade Robson.
In court documents obtained by ET, Optimum Productions, as well as co-executors of the Jackson Estate, claim the documentary violates a non-disparagement clause in a 1992 contract HBO had with Jackson. According to the lawsuit, HBO made the contract in order to air a first-ever televised concert after the release of Jackson's album, Dangerous -- Michael Jackson Live in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour -- and the contract prohibited HBO from making any disparaging remarks about Jackson or any of his representatives that may harm or disparage his public image.
“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 lawsuit alleges. "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," the lawsuit continues. "Yet they are still seeking money, having appealed. 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.”
The lawsuit maintains Jackson's innocence and states that damages could exceed $100 million.
"Michael Jackson is innocent. Period," the lawsuit reads. "In 2005, Michael Jackson was subjected to a trial -- where rules of evidence and law were applied before a neutral judge and jury and where both sides were heard -- and he was exonerated by a sophisticated jury. Ten years after his passing, there are still those out to profit from his enormous worldwide success and take advantage of his eccentricities. 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."
"The real victims here are the primary beneficiaries of the Estate, Michael's three children, who are forced to endure this attack on their father, 10 years after they buried him, and when he had no chance to respond," the lawsuit continues.
In a statement to ET on Thursday, HBO said they're still planning to air Leaving Neverland despite the lawsuit.
“Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged," the 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.”
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson," the statement read. "Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them. Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception,' filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed."
"This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations," the statement continued. "It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”