The estate of Michael Jackson has announced that it is suing HBO for $100 million over the impending release of Leaving Neverland, a documentary that is said to depict the late pop superstar’s alleged sexual abuse of young boys, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The suit, filed Thursday on behalf of Optimum Productions and the two co-executors of Jackson’s estate, alleges that HBO and its parent company Time-Warner will be in breach of a non-disparagement clause in an old contract should the documentary air.
The language of the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, notes that Jackson was put on trial in 2005 and exonerated on seven counts of charges that he had sexually abused children, and two counts of giving a drug to a 13-year-old. They add that that case was tried before a neutral judge and a jury under the rules of evidence, implying that the documentary is going to constitute an unfair smear campaign against the late singer, solely in order to make money.
“Michael is an easy target because he is not here to defend himself,” the suit reads, “and the law does not protect the deceased from defamation, no matter how extreme the lies are.”
The suit then goes on to allege that the airing of the documentary would violate the non-disparagement clause in an old contract HBO had with Jackson to air his first-ever televised live concert after the release of his 1992 album Dangerous, which ended up airing as the hugely successful Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.
“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 suit reads.
And, lawyers for Jackson’s estate argue, since Leaving Neverland contains scenes of the mother of one of the men who has alleged that Jackson sexually abused him talking about her son going along with Jackson on the Dangerous tour, that constitutes “disparagement” of Jackson in connection with the live concert production.
The film has already premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but the lawsuit could throw a monkey wrench into HBO’s plans to air the documentary in two parts on March 3 and 4.
Director Dan Reed and HBO execs continue to stand by the film.
“The one thing I would say about this documentary is I would ask everybody to watch it and make their judgments after seeing it,” said HBO’s head of programming Casey Bloys.