‘Leaving Neverland’: The Award-Winning Documentary Resulted in Lawsuits and Death Threats

Dan Reed may have taken home a top honor for documentary filmmakers with his Emmy win for Leaving Neverland, but the process of making and releasing the film wasn’t an easy one. Not only has HBO been slapped with a lawsuit for the release of the production, but Reed and the two accusers who appear in the limited series received death threats ahead of it’s Sundance debut.  In short, getting the Emmy win likely made it all worthwhile, but the battle over Leaving Neverland is far from over.

What is Leaving Neverland about?

During his life, Michael Jackson was regularly seen in the company of children. He appeared to befriend child actors and even had them to his home for sleepovers. Allegations surfaced in August 1993 when Los Angeles police began investigating claims of multiple accounts of molestation. According to NPR, police found no incriminating evidence. Lawsuits were filed the same year.

In 2003, police reopened the investigation and booked Jackson on ten criminal counts. He was to stand trial for child molestation, abduction, extortion, and false imprisonment charges. Leaving Neverland takes a deep dive into the accounts of two of Jackson’s alleged victims. Both appear in the documentary to recount their time spent with Jackson.

Dan Reed and the subjects of the film received death threats

Michael Jackson’s estate is not the only naysayers the filmmaker, and his subjects have had to battle. According to Deadline, death threats were received by Reed and the two accusers in the lead up to The Sundance Film Festival where the film was first screened. Rabid Michael Jackson fans allegedly sent the threats.

'Leaving Neverlland' director, Dan Reed
Director Dan Reed | Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

The content was controversial. For those who believe Jackson groomed and molested several children, it seemed like concrete evidence. For fans of the King of Pop, the documentary is viewed as another outrageous piece of content geared towards sullying Jackson’s name.  One alleged victim, James Safechuck recounted how he had met Jackson on set, and that Jackson took an immediate interest in him. After winning over his parents, Safechuck was allowed to go on tour with Jackson. It was during that tour, he says, that things turned sexual. Safechuck alleges Jackson introduced him to masturbation.

Wade Robson, another accuser, suggested that Jackson participated in calculated grooming of not only the young boys he allegedly abused but the family’s of those boys, too. Both Robson and Safechuck received threats because they willing appeared in Leaving Neverland.

What is the status of the lawsuit?

Michael Jackson’s estate slapped HBO, and parent company, Time Warner, with a $100 million lawsuit shortly before the two-part film’s release. According to court documents, the estate is arguing that HBO signed a nondisparagement agreement with Jackson decades ago. They believe that the clause remains valid and that the network broke that clause by releasing the documentary.

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Reposted from @anthonykingdancer – The documentary "Leaving Neverland" premieres tonight. I encourage everybody to watch it. If you feel that you don't want to watch it, then please reconsider, to acknowledge and support the victims. I am so proud of them and happy for them! Here are the broadcast times for USA, UK, France and Norway: – United States: HBO Sunday 3rd March and Monday 4th March – United Kingdon: Channel 4 Wednesday 6th March and Thurs 7th March – Norway: NRK TV on Sunday 10th March at 06:00, and NRK 2 at 22.50 – France: M6 Thursday 21st March 21 in the first half of the evening I want to say this to the people who defended, failed to condemn or excused Michael Jackson's behaviour: You degraded the victims of child abuse because you liked the way somebody danced and sang. This was not a passive action, you actively attempted to destroy their reputations because of your defence of somebody that you did not know. You are a selfish and a child abuse defender, in my opinion. I have screen captured every comment, every message, every excuse and every threat. Stay very far away from me. To the individuals who victim shamed and harassed, to the MJ Estate, to the people who had a duty of care to the children around this predator and to the people who turned a blind eye, to the people who remained silent, to his lying cheerleaders, to the people who have sent me death threats and abuse, to his defenders: SHAME ON YOU! Thank you for helping the cause of child welfare around the whole world. Thank you, Terry George, Michael Jacobshagen, Jordan Chandler and Garvin Arvizo. Thank you to the work of long gone "‘Desiree speaks so listen’" to "MJvictims", "MJfacts", Diane Dimond and Thomas W. Sneddon Jr and all the others. Read more on my Facebook and linked on my Twitter account anthonyking1 #LeavingNeverland #MichaelJackson – #regrann

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HBO requested that that case be dismissed. According to reports, HBO lawyers have argued that the litigation was intended to chill speech. A judge denied the request just days after Leaving Neverland brought home an Emmy Award for the documentary. Jackson’s estate has been outspoken about their distaste for the film. They have argued that HBO and the filmmakers were purposefully sensationalizing allegations that they allege have been deemed false.

According to Vanity Fair, the judge’s decision is likely to be finalized next month. Jackson’s estate made a public statement following HBO’s dismissal request. They said, “ “HBO has tried everything possible to avoid having a trier of fact adjudicate their wrongdoing. If HBO believes its actions were proper then there is no reason for them to try and hide behind procedural technicalities to avoid an arbitration or a trial.” The case is likely headed toward arbitration.