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HBO Stands Behind Michael Jackson Doc ‘Leaving Neverland’: ‘It Will Air as Planned’

A still from Leaving Neverland by
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

HBO is sticking with its decision to release a controversial documentary about Michael Jackson in the face of criticism from the late pop singer’s estate.

“It doesn’t change our plans,” HBO programming president Casey Bloys told Variety Friday. “We announced the air date. It will air as planned.”

Earlier Friday, the Jackson estate sent a letter to HBO chief executive Richard Plepler calling “Leaving Neverland” a “one-sided, sensationalist program” and declaring that the film “will go down as the most shameful episode in HBO’s history.”

Directed by Dan Reed, the four-hour film tells the story of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege that the Jackson abused them sexually when they were children. The film drew praise following its premiere last month at the Sundance film festival, with Variety critic Owen Gleiberman calling Robson and Safechuck’s testimony “overwhelmingly powerful and convincing.”

The response to the documentary from Jackson’s estate and supporters has been combative. Despite criticism and pressure from the singer’s heirs, HBO announced Friday that the film would make its television premiere in two parts March 3 and 4.

“We hope that people will reserve judgment until they see it,” Bloys said. “It’s very powerful to see these two men share their stories. I think after everybody sees it, they can decide for themselves.”

Bloys told Variety that the film “absolutely” meets HBO’s standards for documentary filmmaking, an area where the network has been an industry leader for decades.

“We’ve been doing documentaries for a long time,”he said. “I think this one is a very important one, and it’s a very powerful message. I think both men were very brave to share their stories, and they deserve to be heard.”

See the letter sent from Jackson estate attorney Howard Weitzman to HBO below:

Michael Jackson Estate Lett… by on Scribd