The HBO documentary nabbed five nominations, including outstanding directing for a documentary/nonfiction program; outstanding documentary or nonfiction special; outstanding picture editing for a nonfiction program; outstanding sound editing for a nonfiction program; and outstanding sound mixing for a nonfiction program.
In the film, two men — Wade Robson and James Safechuck — allege that the late music icon sexually abused them when they were children. The Jackson estate has sued HBO and slammed the documentary, calling it “another rehash of dated and discredited allegations.”
Leaving Neverland premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. In the documentary, both Robson, 36, and Safechuck, 40, detail their alleged inappropriate experiences with Jackson.
Safechuck met Jackson when he was cast in the singer’s 1986 Pepsi commercial. He said the pop star took him and his family on tour, where their relationship allegedly turned sexual when Jackson taught Safechuck how to masturbate.
“He set it up like I’m going to show you something that everybody does and you’ll enjoy it,” Safechuck said. “It felt like you were bonding, in a way. The tour was the start of this sexual, like, couple relationship.”
Robson met Jackson when he was 5 years old after he won a shopping mall dancing competition in his native Australia. By 1990, when Robson was 7 years old, the family came into contact with Jackson again during a vacation in Los Angeles. Robson alleged Jackson convinced Robson’s mother to let him stay over alone with the singer while the rest of his family went on a trip to the Grand Canyon; Robson alleged Jackson performed oral sex on him and kissed him while his family was away, claiming Jackson told him, “You and I were brought together by God. We were meant to be together. This is how we show love.”
Safechuck alleged the singer trained him to cover their tracks early on.
“He would run drills with me where we’d be in the hotel room and he would pretend like somebody was coming in and you had to get dressed as fast as possible without making noise,” Safechuck said.
Similarly, Robson claimed Jackson told him if anyone “ever found out what we were doing about the sexual stuff, that he and I would be pulled apart and we would never be able to see each other again. And that he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives.”
Robson and Safechuck had both denied being molested by Jackson in the past, before he died in 2009. Robson previously appeared as a witness for Jackson’s defense during a sexual abuse trial in 2005 in which the pop star was acquitted of child molestation charges.
The Jackson estate came out swinging before Leaving Neverland even premiered at Sundance.
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson,” the Jackson estate said in a statement in January.
In late February, two co-executors of Jackson’s estate and Optimum Productions sued HBO and its parent company, Time Warner, for $100 million, claiming that airing the two-part film would violate a non-disparagement clause, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE. “Michael Jackson is innocent. Period,” the lawsuit says in part.
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, HBO responded: “Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged. HBO will move forward with the airing of Leaving Neverland. … This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”