Attorneys representing the estate of legendary pop star Michael Jackson have filed a lawsuit against premium cable net HBO over its new film Leaving Neverland. The estate is seeking upwards of US$100 million.
The suit, filed in the county of Los Angeles, claims a breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
“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,” said the injunction.
“The Jackson Estate will seek 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.”
Leaving Neverland, directed by Dan Reed, tells the story of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, now in their 30s, who accused Jackson of sexual abuse when they were 10 and seven-years-old, respectively. Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges related to the allegations in 2005. He died in 2009.
The injunction claims that HBO violated a contract between Jackson and HBO dating back to 1992, when the musician granted unprecedented concert broadcast rights to the cabler, which resulted in HBO’s two-hour television event Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.
Included in the contract was the provision 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,” according to the injunction.
Jackson’s estate further alleges that the producers of Leaving Neverland disregarded journalistic standards, and that “HBO and Reed made no effort to investigate the veracity of Robson’s and Safechuck’s claims, nor to scrutinize them in the Film itself” [emphasis in original].
The lawsuit has not altered HBO’s plans for the film, which will premiere next month.
“Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged,” the network said, in a statement sent to Realscreen. “HBO will move forward with the airing of 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.”
Leaving Neverland was produced by Reed’s Amos Pictures for HBO and Channel 4 and had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Global sales house Kew Media Distribution, a division of Kew Media Group, has secured the international distribution rights to the film outside the U.S. and UK.
(Updated at 3:55 p.m. to include a statement from HBO)