Michael Jackson’s estate is suing HBO for more than $100 million over an upcoming documentary accusing the late star of abusing two men when they were children.
"Leaving Neverland", which portrays Jackson as a serial child molester, has already caused a strong reaction after its premier at the Sundance Film Festival.
It features testimony from James Safechuck and Wade Robinson, who allege in graphic detail that Jackson abused them both when they were young boys.
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles on Thursday, the singer’s estate argues that the film, which is due to air next month, violates a 1992 contract to broadcast a Jackson concert which included an agreement to not disparage the singer at any future point in time.
The decades-old contract allowed the cable network to air "Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour" but according to the suit, the film implies Jackson molested children on the very tour that the concert footage came from.
"It is hard to imagine a more direct violation of the non-disparagement clause," says the suit, which asks the court to order arbitration and says damages could exceed $100 million.
The lawsuit robustly defends Jackson’s reputation, highlighting the criminal investigation into child abuse claims and 2005 trial in which the singer was acquitted.
It also focuses on the fact that Robson and Safechuck both previously told authorities that Jackson did not molest them, later claiming they were abused in lawsuits filed after the singer’s death and in "Leaving Neverland".
"Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged, HBO will move forward with the airing of ‘Leaving Neverland,’" HBO said in a statement on Thursday. "This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves."
The first installment of the four-hour documentary will first air on HBO on March 3, with the second half airing the following night. It will air in the UK on Channel 4 on March 6 and 7 .
A spokeswoman for Channel 4 said: "Channel 4 have not received any new correspondence from the Jackson Estate. Our plans remain unchanged. Channel 4 will broadcast this two part documentary on 6th and 7th March. Our viewers are entitled to hear from these two men who Michael Jackson first met when they were children."