Michael Jackson estate sues HBO over documentary

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The estate of Michael Jackson sued HBO and parent company Time Warner on Thursday over a documentary about two men who accuse the late pop superstar of molesting them when they were young boys.

Jackson’s estate says the film, Leaving Neverland, violates a 1992 contract to air a Jackson concert.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that by co-producing and airing Leaving Neverland, as HBO intends to do next month, the cable channel is breaching a deal to not disparage the singer.

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The decades-old contract allowed HBO to air Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour and included language that the channel would not disparage Jackson at any future point.

“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 complaint states.

“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.”

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According to the suit, Leaving Neverland implies Jackson molested children on the very tour that the concert footage came from.

“It is hard to imagine a more direct violation of the non-disparagement clause,” the suit says, which asks the court to order arbitration and says damages could exceed $100 million.

The lawsuit notes in its opening sentence that “Michael Jackson is innocent. Period,” and goes on to recount the criminal investigation and 2005 trial in which Jackson was acquitted, highlighting the conflicting statements through the years of [Wade] Robson and Safechuck, who are described as “admitted perjurers” in the suit.

“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.”

Both men told authorities that Jackson did not molest them, later claiming they were abused in lawsuits filed after the singer’s death and in graphic detail in Leaving Neverland.

READ MORE: ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary director responds to Jackson estate

“To summarize, HBO profited off the Dangerous World Tour by airing a concert from the tour and promoting Michael Jackson’s talents,” the complaint continues. “Now, HBO is profiting off the Dangerous World Tour by airing a ‘documentary’ that falsely claims Michael Jackson was abusing children on the same tour. It is hard to imagine a more direct violation of the non-disparagement clause.”

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It also reiterates the estate’s position that it was irresponsible for the film not to include any defence of Jackson from those who knew him or further fact checks of the men.

“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 lawsuit states. “Michael may not have lived his life according to society’s norms, but genius and eccentricity are not crimes.”

READ MORE: Michael Jackson estate calls disturbing ‘Leaving Neverland’ allegations a ‘public lynching’

HBO responded with a statement saying its plans to air Leaving Neverland remain unchanged.

“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.”

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After the estate wrote a letter earlier this month filled with their concerns about the documentary, HBO said: “Dan Reed is an award-winning filmmaker who has carefully documented these survivors’ accounts. People should reserve judgment until they see the film.”

READ MORE: Michael Jackson estate calls Sundance exposé documentary ‘outrageous’ and ‘lurid’

Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson sent out a series of tweets on Feb. 21 after news of the lawsuit spread.

“For those late to the party… here’s Wade Robson’s email to me about attending my uncle Michael’s memorial in 2009. His whole family went,” he tweeted, with an email from Robson attached.

“Omg. My old text messages with Wade from 2009 just came back on my phone. I’ve been trying to access them forever. I feel like a higher power is intervening 🙏🏽. Receipts coming once I blur out his old number. Facts don’t lie. People do,” he wrote.

“Wade Robson’s text conversations with me in 2009. Thank God they came back to my phone. This is definitely a gift from above. Here are the screenshots. And people wonder why we are so mad about these false allegations. Media are you listening? #receipts,” Taj tweeted.

He began to tweet screenshots of his old conversations with Robson, dating back to July 5, 2009.

“And the film we are talking about was Code Z, which was a zombie tribute to my uncle Michael that I directed,” he tweeted, adding context to his text message conversation with Robson.

READ MORE: Macaulay Culkin opens up about ‘normal friendship’ with Michael Jackson

The film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where its subjects Robson and Safechuck received a standing ovation and took questions afterward along with director Reed.

Reed is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The first installment of the four-hour documentary will first air on HBO on March 3, with the second half airing the following night. Britain’s Channel 4 will air it around the same time.

— With files from the Associated Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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