Less than two weeks before HBO is set to air the already controversial documentary Leaving Neverland, the co-executors of the Jackson estate are suing the premium cable channel, claiming it will "constitute a breach of a non-disparagement clause" from a previous contract.
"Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged", the statement reads. The first installment of the four-hour documentary will first air on HBO on March 3, with the second half airing the following night.
The Jackson estate immediately criticized the film after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last month, calling it a "public lynching" and Jackson's accusers "admitted liars", in reference to sworn statements made by both Safechuck and Robson while Jackson was alive that he did not molest them. "Had they made an objective film it would have allowed viewers to make up their own minds about these allegations, instead of having a television network dictate to them that they must accept these false claims about Michael Jackson".
By airing Leaving Neverland, Jackson's estate argues, HBO is in breach of contract.
HBO is reportedly seeking "all damages proximately caused by HBO's reprehensible disparagement of Michael Jackson, which could exceed $100 million".
In "Leaving Neverland", Wade Robson and James Safechuck, now 41 and 37 respectively, allege they experienced years of sexual abuse by Jackson in the late '80s and early '90s, which they describe in graphic detail.
It also reiterates the estate's position that it was irresponsible for the film not to include any defense of Jackson from those who knew him or further fact checks of the men. HBO could have and should have ensured that Leaving Neverland was properly sourced, fact checked and a fair and balanced representation.
"Dan Reed is an award-winning filmmaker who has carefully documented these survivors' accounts", the network's statement said. "People should reserve judgment until they see the film". "Michael may not have lived his life according to society's norms, but genius and eccentricity are not crimes".
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