Update: In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Joseph Fiennes defended the creative decision to cast him as Michael Jackson. "I'm a white, middle-class guy from London," the actor said. "I'm as shocked as you may be." ET reports that though Fiennes knows he "might receive some criticism for playing an African American, he doesn't think his race should come into play." Fiennes added that "[Jackson] definitely had an issue — a pigmentation issue — and that's something I do believe... He was probably closer to my color than his original color." The Brit also explained that the film is going to be a lighthearted comedy and "not in any way malicious. It's actually endearing."
This story was originally published at 12:30 p.m. on January 27, 2016.
A shocking and disappointing casting decision was announced recently. The Guardian reports that British actor Joseph Fiennes has been cast to play late music legend Michael Jackson in a new movie titled Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon. The movie is based on a purported post-9/11 road trip — documented by Vanity Fair in 2011 — taken by MJ and acting greats Elizabeth Taylor (to be played by Stockard Channing) and Marlon Brando (to be played by Brian Cox). The unlikely trio are said to have driven from New York City to Ohio, with the intent of reaching California, after flights were grounded in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
But as unbelievable as that plot is in itself, we're finding the decision to cast Joseph Fiennes as a Black man hard to wrap our heads around. Oh, what ironic timing Hollywood has. The choice to cast a white actor as a Black icon is a slap in the face — particularly during the high-tension atmosphere surrounding the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. This is a painfully perfect example of how Black actors are denied lead roles that can potentially be recognized by The Academy. And it's personally insulting to Black audiences who are yet again forced to see a white man tell their story. We're almost expecting to hear this is all a big joke. (We're also expecting to hear the defense that MJ's skin was much, much lighter than it used to be by this point in his life, due to vitiligo and rumored procedures: A moot point. The man was biologically Black, and Hollywood is pretty good with makeup these days.)
After a year wrought with whitewashing in Hollywood — from Rooney Mara playing Tiger Lily in Pan to Emma Stone portraying a quarter-Asian, quarter-Hawaiian woman in Aloha — we were hopeful that the industry might've hit a breaking point. How many times can you try to pass off a Caucasian actor as a character of color before society calls bullshit? But the awful trend is continuing into 2016, it seems. (Just earlier this week, it was announced white actor Charlie Hunnam would play real-life Mexican-American drug lord Edgar Valdez Villarreal in a movie about his life.)
Naturally, people are expressing disbelief more than anything at the inexplicable casting choice on Twitter.
All that's left to say? Shame on you, Hollywood.