The Michael Jackson Estate is hardly letting go of Leaving Neverland, the documentary about the late pop star’s alleged sexual abuse that will be airing on HBO next month. On Thursday (Feb. 21), Optimum Productions and the two co-executors of the Jackson Estate sued HBO and parent company Time Warner claiming the documentary constitutes a breach of a non-disparagement clause in an old contract.
“Michael Jackson is innocent. Period,” begins the 53-page complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. “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 law may give no recourse to dead individuals when it comes to reputation, but those managing the Jackson business have found a way to nevertheless haul HBO into court over Leaving Neverland.
After going through attacks on Jackson’s two accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, plus filmmaker Dan Reed and HBO for failing to meet with them to address concerns about what the Estate sees as a one-sided propaganda film, the plaintiffs discuss the old contract that HBO made to air a first-ever televised concert after the release of Jackson’s album Dangerous.
The year was 1992, and many media outlets were said to be chasing Jackson’s televised concert at that time. Then, came the deal.
“In those non-disparagement provisions, 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,'” states the complaint. “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.”
The complaint notes that at the time, HBO chief Richard Plepler was working as a senior vp of communications and thus “must have known, or should have known, about HBO’s contract with Jackson, as Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour was the biggest event for HBO that year. Yet in his desperation, Plepler willfully ignored HBO’s obligations to Michael Jackson.”
Among the complaints is how Leaving Neverland expressly suggests “Jackson was abusing children in connection with and on the Dangerous World Tour,” pointing to a scene where Robson’s mother is shown discussing the children taken on that tour.