Jackson's Family Has Issues With 'Searching For Neverland'

by Victoria McNally
Lifetime/Deadra Bryant

Usually, Memorial Day is about two things: celebrating the beginning of summer and remembering the fallen members of America’s Armed Forces. With the May 29 premiere of the biopic Michael Jackson: Searching For Neverland, Lifetime adds a third: paying homage to the King Of Pop. Lifetime’s latest TV movie follows the last few years of Jackson’s life from the perspective of two of his bodyguards. But as is so often the case, these kinds of television biopics about huge celebrities with complicated histories can run afoul of the people who actually lived these experiences — so what does Michael Jackson’s family think of Searching For Neverland?

Evidently, not much. In a press statement published by Billboard, the Michael Jackson Estate notes that Searching For Neverland is not a sanctioned project; neither is Bubbles, the stop-motion animated film about Jackson’s pet chimpanzee that was recently bought by Netflix. Instead, the Estate plans to release its own projects sometime in the near future. "When the executors are ready to announce them, they will," the statement reads. "As Michael said countless times about his own work, the quality goes in before the name goes on." Ouch. Bustle reached out to Lifetime, but the network declined to comment.

According to TMZ, the Estate has held off on taking legal action towards either movie for the time being, but if any of Michael Jackson’s images or music appear on screen, they will strongly consider changing their tune. Lifetime's film does not feature any of Jackson's music or music videos.

Of course, Lifetime is no stranger to presenting biopics that don’t actually feature any of the protagonist’s body of work — the network recently released a Britney Spears-focused film, Ever After, which portrayed the pop star’s rise to fame and her relationship with Justin Timberlake, but which didn’t have Spears’ input at all. And then there was the Whitney Houston biopic before that, and the Aayliah one before that.

The lack of familiar musical cues in Searching For Neverland might not feel so weird in context, considering the source material. The movie was inspired by the bestselling book Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson In His Final Days, which was written by Jackson’s real-life bodyguards, Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, and focuses predominantly on his relationship with his children and his desire to live a normal life away from the fame and success.

According to Entertainment Tonight, an invitation was extended to Jackson’s daughter Paris while the movie was being filmed, but she never visited. However, Navi, who plays Jackson in the film and also who one worked as his body double, said he was optimistic about how Searching For Neverland will be received. "I believe that when this project is out, they will know it is a fair and truthful portrayal," he told ET.

The full statement from the Estate of Michael Jackson appears below:

"To clear up any confusion or misperceptions about unsanctioned Michael Jackson projects currently in the news -- including a Lifetime television movie and an animated film script recently purchased by Netflix -- the Estate of Michael Jackson does not license or permit the use of any rights it owns, including to Michael’s music, images, video and films, for use in unauthorized works seeking to exploit Michael's legacy. The Estate itself has numerous projects in development, all of which respect, honor and celebrate Michael’s life and legacy along with his extraordinary artistry that touched fans throughout the world. When the executors are ready to announce them, they will. As Michael said countless times about his own work, the quality goes in before the name goes on."

Will Searching For Neverland accurately represent the controversial artist and his family? It's impossible for anyone who didn't know Michael Jackson to determine. But according to his estate, there may be more biographical projects on the way.