Michael Jackson estate suing HBO for $100m over tell-all documentary

The singer’s estate is claiming the network is breaching a 1992 non-disparagement contract by airing a two-part documentary alleging sexual abuse against children

Michael Jackson’s estate is suing HBO over the network’s plans to air a documentary alleging the singer sexually abused two young boys.

The estate is claiming 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.

In a 53-page complaint, the four-hour, two-part documentary is referred to as “a one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself”.

Leaving Neverland premiered at the Sundance film festival last month and revealed the testimonies of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege that Jackson sexually abused them when they were under the age of 10. “We can’t change what happened to us,” Robson, now 36, said after the first screening. “The feeling is what can we do with that now.”

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.

“HBO could have and should have ensured that Leaving Neverland was properly sourced, factchecked and a fair and balanced representation,” the estate attorney Howard Weitzman told Deadline.

The suit focuses on the HBO president, Richard Plepler, who was working as a senior vice-president of communications in 1992, claiming that he “must have known, or should have known, about HBO’s contract with Jackson”.

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,” 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.”

Jackson’s former Neverland maid Adrian McManus is also set to speak out against the singer in 60 Minutes this weekend. She claims she saw the singer engage in “kissing” and “petting” with young boys and was threatened over coming forward.

“There was a kind side to him, and yet there was a dark side,” she said in a promo for the interview. “They told me if I ever came up on TV that they could hire a hitman to take me out, slice my neck, would never find my body.”

The director, Dan Reed, has spoken about the possibility of a follow-up. “I believe there were many other victims,” he said to Vice. “We wanted to focus on James and Wade, and their families, who had very long relationships with Jackson. I’m sure there are others out there who will come out when the time is right for them. We’ll see.”

Leaving Neverland is set to air on HBO and Channel 4 next month.

Guardian staff

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