Lawyers for Brett Barnes have claimed that the filmmakers behind the controversial Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland refused their request to remove both footage and mention of Barnes from the film.
The documentary notes Barnes’ friendship with the late singer when he was a child, with one interview suggesting that Barnes was a “replacement” for one of Leaving Neverland‘s primary interviewees, Wade Robson. Both Robson and James Safechuck, who also appears in the film, allege that Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. Jackson denied any wrongdoing up until his death in 2009.
It’s now emerged that Barnes’ legal team took issue with the Leaving Neverland producers ahead of the documentary’s US premiere on March 3, claiming that his appearance in the film gave the false impression that their client was sexually abused as a child.
“By depicting Mr. Barnes as a child next to Mr. Jackson in a film devoted to allegations of sexual molestation against Mr. Jackson, the film leaves viewers with the false impression that Mr. Barnes was in fact molested by Mr. Jackson and that Mr. Barnes is simply in denial,” a letter to HBO from Barnes’ lawyer Allen Grodsky (which has now been obtained by Billboard) reads.
According to his lawyers, Barnes was not consulted about the use of his name and likeness in the film, nor did he consent to their use. The letter claims that Barnes would “suffer significant torment and pain if the film is broadcast and portrays him in this false light”.
“The hurt you will cause to Mr. Barnes if you do not reverse course is magnified by the fact that Mr. Barnes and his family considered Mr. Jackson to be a dear family friend for almost twenty years and Mr. Barnes still considers him to have been one of the best friends he has ever had,” the letter continues.
“That you would produce a film strongly implying that Mr. Barnes was sexually abused by one of his best friends is outrageous. That no one even attempted to contact Mr. Barnes to ask about such accusation is beyond the pale…. Put simply, Mr. Barnes wants nothing to do with the film, does not consent to use of his image and likeness in the film, and wishes to be left alone.”
Leaving Neverland does contain an on-screen clarification which states Barnes’ denial that Jackson ever acted inappropriately towards him.
In response to Barnes’ lawyers, attorneys for Amos Pictures Ltd., the producers of Leaving Neverland, denied that any “false assertions of fact are made or implied” about Barnes in the film.
“To the contrary, facts of your client’s friendship with Michael Jackson are presented as they happened” the letter, also obtained by Billboard, states. “Mr. Barnes’ relationship with Michael Jackson has been a part of the public record for decades; he cannot simply remove himself from history.
“While it is unfortunate that Mr. Barnes is not happy with the Film, there is no legal requirement that Amos Pictures, HBO or any other third party submit to the demands in your letter, and accordingly they respectfully decline to do so.”
Earlier this week, Dan Reed, the director of Leaving Neverland, denied claims from Mark Geragos, the lawyer who represented Michael Jackson during his 2005 trial for child molestation, that footage of him in the film was taken “out of context.”