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.
In 1992, HBO aired Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour, and as part of that special, the network signed a non-disparagement provision when it came to the way Jackson was portrayed, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“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,’” according to the complaint, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
HBO did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment on the lawsuit.
The 52-page suit goes on to state that “Michael Jackson is innocent. Period. 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. 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 plaintiffs, which also include Optimum Productions, are seeking arbitration and damages, “which could exceed $100 million should HBO succeed in the damage it is intending to cause to the legacy of Michael Jackson,” the suit states.
The two-part documentary, directed and produced by Dan Reed (This World, The Paedophile Hunter), screened for audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It zeroes in on longtime accusations of sexual abuse raised by Wade Robson, 36, and James Safechuck, 40. The Jackson estate has called the film “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death.”
Part 1 of Leaving Neverland will premiere March 3 on HBO, followed by Part 2 on March 4.