The estate of Michael Jackson filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO Thursday, claiming the network’s upcoming “Leaving Neverland” documentary about allegations of sex abuse by the late singer is a one-sided rehash of debunked accusations and violates a long-standing “non-disparagement” agreement.
“Michael Jackson is innocent. Period,” the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit begins. “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,” the suit states.
Officials with HBO did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, but the network has previously defended the program. According to the website Deadline, HBO programming chief Casey Bloys recently told reporters the network had no plans to meet with representatives of Jackson’s estate and that the show will air as planned.
“The one thing I would say about this documentary is I would ask everybody to watch it and make their judgments after seeing it,” Bloys told Deadline.
“Leaving Neverland,” which was promoted by HBO at the recent Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled to air next month, includes interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck about their allegations of sex abuse at the hands of Jackson.
The lawsuit dubs the pair “two admitted perjurers … whose litigations have played out in the courts as a failed melodrama for more than five years.” Robson and Safechuck both sued the Jackson estate previously, but their suits were ultimately dismissed.
According to the lawsuit, HBO agreed back in 1992 when it aired a special on Jackson’s “Dangerous” tour that it would “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 agreement also required the network to “notify and consult” with Jackson and his production company if it planned to air any other programming about the singer.
The lawsuit contends that “Leaving Neverland” is a blatant violation of that contractual agreement.
“HBO decided to willfully violate its commitments and covenants to Jackson and his entities,” the suit states. “In violation of both basic norms of documentary journalism and the explicit terms of the agreement, HBO has disparaged Jackson’s legacy by airing a one-sided hit piece against Jackson based exclusively on the false accounts of two proven, serial perjurers.”
The suit asks that HBO be compelled to take part “in a non-confidential arbitration” over the breach-of-contract claims, with the suit contending that Jackson’s estate will seek damages “which could exceed $100 million.”’
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