The estate sent a lengthy letter to HBO CEO Richard Plepler
The four-hour documentary, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, tells the story of two men – Wade Robson and James Safechuck – who both allege they were sexually abused by Jackson in the 1990s.
In their letter to HBO which is printed in full in Deadline, Jackson’s estate has described the documentary as “a one-sided sensationalist programme” and “disgraceful”, denouncing the film and its director, Dan Reed.
The estate claims that they were never contacted by Reed or anyone associated with the film “to provide the Estate’s views on, and responses to, the absolutely false claims that are the subject matter of the [programme].”
The estate also took aim at what they describe as the “one-sided” claims, stating: “no one else who might offer evidence to contradict the [programme’s] premise was consulted either, as Dan Reed has publicly admitted.”
In a statement given to Pitchfork, HBO said thier plans to air the documentary in March will not be affected by the letter.
HBO said: “Our plans remain unchanged. The two-part documentary, Leaving Neverland, will air as scheduled on Sunday, March 3rd and Monday, March 4th. Dan Reed is an award-winning filmmaker who has carefully documented these survivors’ accounts. People should reserve judgement until they see the film.”
The Jackson Estate previously issued a statement about the documentary ahead of the film’s premiere, calling it “another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.”
“Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them,” it continued. “Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception,’ filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.
“This so-called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations,” the statement continues. “It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”
Last month, viewers of the documentary described it as “brutally upsetting”, with attendees at the viewing reporting that the festival enlisted mental health counsellors for audience members who were upset or affected by the film’s content.
Responding to their views, director Reed said: “It is a four-hour documentary by an experienced documentarian with a long track record in investigation and telling complex stories and this is a complex story.
“I’d say it’s beyond doubt a documentary. Anyone with any knowledge of that form would recognize a documentary. A four-hour piece, is that a tabloid? I didn’t characterize Jackson at all in the film — I think if you watch it you’ll have noticed that it’s a story about these two families and Jackson is an element of that story.
“But I don’t seek to characterize him at all. I don’t comment on Jackson. It’s not a film about Michael. … The film itself is an account of sexual abuse, how sexual abuse happens and then how the consequences play out later in life.”