In the decade that followed the death of Michael Jackson, the estate of the late singer turned this financial disaster into one of the most lucrative properties of entertainment. But now, the upcoming documentary "Leaving Neverland" threatens to ruin everything – and the estate is in full damage control mode.
Directed by Dan Reed, "Leaving Neverland" caused a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival this year, where he was greeted by a standing ovation. HBO, which produced the documentary with Channel 4, will broadcast the film in two four-hour sections on Sunday, March 3 and Monday, March 4.
The documentary focuses on two accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, now in their thirties, who tell the story of how they were sexually assaulted by Jackson from an early age. "Sexual activity is described with a bewildering frankness, and one of the inevitable answers is to back down with horror at the predatory illness of Michael Jackson," wrote Variety's Owen Gleiberman in his report. "He was a serial pedophile who came forward to protect the children."
At Sundance, some social media commented that they may have permanently tarnished their enjoyment of Jackson's music.
And that's probably about the Michael Jackson estate. On February 21, the estate sued HBO in court, claiming that the network was violating a non-disparagement agreement reached with the singer in 1992. "Leaving Neverland" is not a documentary, it's not a documentary. is the kind of murder Michael Jackson suffered in the tabloid in life and now in death, "said the estate in a January statement.
Family members Tito, Marlon, Jackie and Taj Jackson recently recorded an interview with CBS This Morning, which was due to air on Wednesday morning. During the conversation with Gayle King, Marlon Jackson stated that the allegations of Robson and Safechuck were motivated by financial considerations and that "this documentary does not tell the truth … There is no evidence that corroborates their and that does not interest them. "
HBO and the filmmakers, however, have a powerful voice in their corner: Oprah Winfrey, who will host Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland. This special show, which will air on March 4, just after the doc, is a conversation between Winfrey, Robson, Safechuck and Reed. It was recorded in front of an audience of sexual abuse victims "and other people whose lives were touched".
Depending on the impact of "Quit Neverland" in popular culture and social media, the Jackson Domain runs the risk of seeing the name and collapse value of the pseudonym King of Pop – perhaps even in the dark days that preceded his death. "It will be a bumpy ride for a few months," said Allen Adamson, brand consultant, co-founder of Metaforce. "The bigger the HBO movie, the more bumpy it will be."
In the 1990s, Jackson's strange behavior had been well documented. But his reputation suffered a lot after he was accused of sexual abuse on a child in 1993. This complaint had been settled amicably, but his career – which had already begun to degrade – had dipped heavily afterwards. Coincidentally, Jackson's latest hit, "You are not Alone" from 1995, was written by R. Kelly, the R & B singer, who also fights numerous allegations of pedophilia and sexual assault.
Jackson's image was badly damaged in 2004, when he was accused of mistreating 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo. Jackson was eventually found not guilty, but the lawsuit in Santa Barbara County and the surrounding media circus – fueled in part by years of eccentric behavior on the part of the singer, and those previous allegations – seemed to have permanently tarnished his reputation.
"I think that ten years ago, if you asked most fans to place Michael Jackson on a fascinating scale, he would get a lot closer to goose bumps," said Adamson, assistant professor at the NYU Stern.
In a lawsuit in 2017 before the Internal Revenue Service (which accused the estate of under-reporting the value of Jackson's posthumous assets), the estate had also admitted it. Paralegal Karen Langford, who once worked for Jackson's attorney, testified that Jackson's merchandise contracts dried up after the 1993 charge, and that a national sponsor did not support his "HIStory" tour of 1996-1997.
During the battle with the IRS, the estate found itself in the awkward position of initially claiming the right to Jackson's image and likeness was worth only $ 2,105 at his death , because of allegations of sexual assault.
"These things are almost impossible to overcome," said during a lawsuit at the IRS's Jay Fishman, an expert in business valuation. "I call it a nuclear winter." (Fishman said the rights to Jackson's estate were worth only $ 3 million upon his death, compared with the $ 161 million claimed by the IRS.)
But after Jackson's death, fans were quick to forget old scandals. Album sales and radio broadcasting have resumed. Even now, "Thriller" will be Jackson – who had already lost the favor of many outlets – is a staple of old radio stations.
"He was stigmatized around him before he died," said a radio official Variety. "The facts that occurred in the Santa Barbara case were shocking. When he died, everything is gone. There was an immediate love for his music. Some of our biggest songs are from him. "
Now, Michael Jackson is easily the best-paid dead celebrity of entertainment. According to Forbes, in 2018, his wealth was worth $ 400 million, much more than No. 2, Elvis Presley, at $ 40 million. This figure was further inflated last year through the sale of its stake in EMI Music Publishing to Sony for $ 287 million. According to Forbes, Jackson's estate has earned $ 2.1 billion (corrected for inflation) since his death in 2009.
Not only have there been many posthumous releases of Jackson's exhumed music, but the estate has been associated with Cirque du Soleil as part of operations including the permanent "Michael Jackson ONE" show in Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. In 2015, the Jackson Estate entered into an agreement with Authentic Brands Group – which also manages the brands Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe – to find new licensing and retail partnerships around the world.
And in 2016, the estate cashed another big payday: Sony / ATV paid $ 750 million to buy half of its joint publication catalog, which included the songs of the Beatles. (The estate still owns Mijac Music, which owns the rights to Jackson's songs.)
There are early signs, however, that "Quit Neverland" could have an impact on the Jackson brand, at least in the domestic market. (Jackson may be ordering an even larger fan base in many parts of the world.) The field and Columbia Live Stage have recently canceled their Chicago test project for Jackson's jukebox music song "Do not You do not stop until you have enough. blamed for the cancellation, but the timing raised eyebrows. Instead, the show should be presented on Broadway in the summer of 2020 – perhaps when "Leaving Neverland" will remain a distant memory. There was also talk of a possible tribute concert in 2019 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Jackson's death. But so far, there is no indication if or when this event, which would feature music superstars re-enacting Jackson's "This Is It" tour, will happen.
Elsewhere, the radio director said he was "trying to determine right now" what to do with Jackson's songs if "Leaving Neverland" was successful. "It's hard to predict what could happen, but we'll pay attention to the story and the thoughts and feelings of the listeners," he said.
Despite the horrendous abuse documented in "Leaving Neverland," Reed said he was not advocating a scrub of Jackson's popular culture music. He prefers to leave that to the individual. "No doubt people will talk about a" Mute MJ "campaign, the director said. "Personally, I would not approve that; it must be a personal choice. As a spectator of the film, would you like to hear a piece of Michael Jackson play at a children's party? I think this could make some people feel uncomfortable now. So it will change. The film is not about Michael Jackson, and I certainly do not want to overthrow Jackson as an icon or undermine his legacy. I just think it needs to be re-contextualized. "
This debate about the artist's separation of art is also underway with dishonest stars such as Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. and lately, R. Kelly. But the obvious difference with Jackson is that he is no longer alive and that's why Adamson thinks the Michael Jackson brand could resist "Leaving Neverland".
"There is not going to be an echo chamber where he denies it [and] the lawyers intervene, "said Adamson, who also believes that previous allegations could potentially mitigate the effects of the documentary. "I do not think that will surprise the vast majority of the market. The idea of "Neverland" as a whole has always seemed at best incomplete.
"The best thing to do for the Jackson brand," he added, "would be to not answer, not discuss, call back and enter a quiet time and wait a bit time to pass. "