Estate of Michael Jackson to sue HBO for “Leaving Neverland”

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A two-part documentary scheduled to air March 2019, will focus on some on some of the less-savory parts of Michael Jackson’s life. The problem is that the late singer’s estate claims that by airing the documentary, HBO is in violation of a “non-disparagement” clause. Allegedly, as reported by The Guardian and elsewhere, when the premium cable network aired a 1992 documentary called “Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour” Jackson’s estate created a contract with the network that included a “clause [that] precluded them from disparaging the singer in future works.”

Part of the complaint, which is reportedly 53 pages long, contends that Jackson is “no longer here to defend himself,” and therefore the allegations are unfair.

The estate is suing for $100 million for the breach of the contract. The suit brings up an interesting facet of posthumous discussions about a performer. On the one hand, there is the interest of not tarnishing a person’s reputation after death. On the other, there exists the idea of telling the truth because the actual person cannot be harmed by information revealed after he or she has died.

Michael Jackson and HBO: telling unsavory tales

The new documentary that Michael Jackson’s estate does not want HBO to air is called “Leaving Neverland” and it first premiered at Sundance.

Exactly who constitutes the Estate of Michael Jackson is not clearly defined in articles about this lawsuit. The question is raised about where the money will go, the other question is what is so awful that Jackson’s representatives feel as though they need to take legal action.

Primarily, the information Jackson’s estate objects to is that relating to the claims that the late singer molested children. Some of those children, now adults, are participants in the film. If the allegations are true, they certainly cast Jackson in a negative light. However, if they are not, the claims invite scrutiny of those who have made the claims. The scrutiny though, has already happened in legal courts and the court of public opinion.

It does not appear as though the problem the estate has this time is with the alleged victims, per se. The issue is with the film and its portrayals of Jackson.

Somewhere in the issues that Jackson’s estate and HBO have with each other there is the first amendment, and whether or not it is being abused. However, if a contract was signed by representatives of HBO, then, that is a problem, too.

Jackson died in 2009 after an accidentally overdose of prescription drugs. He amassed multiple generations of international fans with a catalog of songs dating back to the 1960s, when Jackson was just a child. Allegations of child molestation began to color Jackson’s career as early as 1993.

Like so many performers with impressive musical histories, Jackson’s alleged misdeeds present a dilemma for fans. As audiences have seen recently with singer R. Kelly, the ability and willingness to choose between the man and his music can be difficult.

“Leaving Neverland” will air on March 3-4 on HBO.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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