Michael Jackson’s estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO on Thursday over an upcoming documentary in which two men accuse the late pop superstar of sexually molesting them when they were children.
The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that by co-producing and airing the documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” the cable giant is breaking a 1992 contract for televising a concert special in which it agreed not to “disparage” the singer, who died in 2009.
Jackson, who long professed his innocence, was acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005.
“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 him,” Howard Weitzman, an attorney for the estate, said in a statement accompanying the 53-page complaint.
HBO defended the documentary, saying in a statement that “despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged.” The channel said it still intends to air the four-hour documentary over two nights in early March.
“This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves,” the statement said.
“Leaving Neverland” centers on two men — Wade Robson and James Safechuck — who claim they were befriended and then physically abused by Jackson. Robson and Safechuck came forward with their allegations following Jackson’s death, after previously denying that the singer had abused them.
Robson testified in 2005 that Jackson had never sexually molested him. He filed a civil lawsuit in 2013 claiming that Jackson had abused him from the time he was 7 until he was 14. Safechuck filed a similar civil suit against the estate in 2014.
Vince Finaldi, an attorney representing both men, has told NBC News his clients’ suits were tossed due to the statute of limitations, not the credibility of their claims.
Robson and Safechuck wanted to “educate the public about how abuse like this happens,” Finaldi said last month. “They wanted the story of what happened to get out there, for the public to know how to help keep kids safe.”