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Michael Jackson’s estate suing HBO over ‘Leaving Neverland’ (set to air in March)

Leaving Neverland

Michael Jackson‘s estate is suing HBO over their plans to air Leaving Neverland, Rolling Stone reports. The four-hour documentary premiered at Sundance Film Festival last month and is scheduled to air on HBO March 3 and 4. It focuses on allegations of sexual abuse against Jackson made by Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom befriended Jackson as children. Jackson’s estate previously called the documentary “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death,” in a statement to Rolling Stone. “The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact,” the statement continued. From Rolling Stone:

Because Jackson’s estate cannot sue for libel or defamation – as dead individuals are exempt from such laws – the new lawsuit is centered around the claim that Leaving Neverland violates a non-disparagement clause in a 1992 contract between Jackson and HBO over the rights to air the concert film, Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.

“In those non-disparagement provisions, 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,'” the lawsuit claims. “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.”

In a statement, Jackson estate lawyers said, “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. 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.” They are seeking “all damages proximately caused by HBO’s reprehensible disparagement of Michael Jackson, which could exceed $100 million should HBO succeed in the damage it is intending to cause to the legacy of Michael Jackson,” as the 53-page filing reads.

HBO still plans to air the film. In a statement, they say, “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 3rd and 4th. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”

The first trailer for Leaving Neverland came out Thursday (2/20); watch it below.

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