Michael Jackson’s team is looking to cancel HBO—at least in court.
Representatives for the late singer, who died in 2009, have filed a lawsuit against HBO and its parent company, Time Warner, over next month’s Leaving Neverland, a two-part documentary detailing multiple allegations of sexual abuse against Jackson. The movie, which is set to air on HBO on March 3 and 4—and which a Variety reviewed described as “devastating”—features claims from Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom befriended Jackson while they were children.
“Michael Jackson is innocent,” the lawsuit notes. “Period.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the suit was brought forth by Optimum Productions—the company that oversees much of Jackson’s posthumous output—as well as pair of executors of the singer’s estate. They claim HBO is committing a breach of contract by airing Leaving Neverland, thanks to a deal the network made to air a 1992 concert broadcast headlined by Jackson.
In obtaining the rights to that special, which cost the network a then-shocking $20 million, HBO allegedly signed a non-disparagement clause that prevented the network from making “any disparaging remarks concerning [Jackson]…or do any act that may harm or disparage or cause to lower in esteem the reputation or public image,” according to the Reporter.
By airing Leaving Neverland, Jackson’s estate argues, HBO is in breach of contract. The lawsuit also attacks the network and the film’s director, Dan Reed, for not meeting with the estate to discuss the film’s claims.
Jackson’s estate is reportedly seeking “all damages proximately caused by HBO’s reprehensible disparagement of Michael Jackson, which could exceed $100 million.”
The lawsuit’s tactical approach was previewed in a tweet sent out by Jackson’s official Twitter account last January, as Leaving Neverland was making its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. “In 1992, Michael gave HBO their highest rated special ever,” the tweet read. “Now, to repay him they give a voice to admitted liars.”