Michael Jackson Estate Sues HBO Over Leaving Neverland

The Michael Jackson estate sues HBO for up to $100 million over its depiction of the late pop star and allegations of sexual assault.

Leaving Neverland Lawsuit Michael Jackson

Forget about the man in the mirror; we’re about to see how deep his brand extends beyond death, because the estate of Michael Jackson has announced legal action against HBO for the impending premiere of Leaving Neverland, a highly anticipated two-part documentary from filmmaker Dan Reed about detailed sexual assault allegations against the late King of Pop.

Premiering last month at the Sundance Film Festival (and under heightened police security), Leaving Neverland has earned international headlines for being an apparently harrowing viewing experience. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich said it may change the way you listen to Michael Jackson music forever… if you in fact can. Perhaps that reaction has added the Jackson estate’s desire to seek an injunction against Home Broadcasting Office over the film, suing the premium cable network for $100 million.

“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,” read the injunction and arbitration seeking breach of contract complaint filed in the L.A. Superior Court (read the full 53-page complaint here).

Deadline has meanwhile personally quoted Howard Weitzman, the Jackson estate attorney, as saying, ““HBO breached its agreement not to disparage Michael Jackson by producing and selling to the public a one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself.”

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We do not know the details of that contract between the Jackson estate and HBO, nor have the legal expertise to consider how it was breached, but this should be a potentially historic case. Legally, you cannot sue for defamation over the reputation of a dead man, however if HBO was granted special access to the Jackson estate, it would create an interesting question of how legally liable the network is for its depiction of the late pop star.

However, HBO stands by the finished film. Casey Bloys, president of HBO programming, said earlier this month at TCA, ““The one thing I would say about this documentary is I would ask everybody to watch it and make their judgments after seeing it.” He later added there are no plans to change the air date for the film.

You can watch the trailer for Leaving Neverland below, which will air in two parts on March 3 and March 4.

David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.