‘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.
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.
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.