The First Images of Joseph Fiennes in the Michael Jackson Biopic Drive Home an Important Point

January 11th 2017

Laura Donovan

Joseph Fiennes faced a lot of backlash in early 2016 when he landed the role of Michael Jackson for a TV special titled "Urban Myths." Now, the first trailer for the project is finally available online, and the images of Fiennes as Jackson have re-ignited the controversy surrounding his casting.

Michael Jackson Joseph Fiennes

Joseph Fiennes Michael Jackson

People are saying that the casting of a white actor as Jackson — a black artist — whitewashes the iconic star and his legacy:

Fiennes responded to the controversy in January of 2016. "I'm a white, middle-class guy from London," the actor told ET. "I'm as shocked as you may be."

"[Jackson] definitely had an issue — a pigmentation issue — and that's something I do believe," Fiennes continued. "He was probably closer to my color than his original color."

The larger issue about black representation in film and television.

The entertainment industry has a well-known diversity problem, and Hollywood has been criticized for only telling stories about black people as slaves or maids. The new film "Hidden Figures" received positive attention last month for telling the story of three black female mathematicians at NASA.

In July 2015, ATTN: interviewed actor Dylan Marron about his project "Every Single Word Spoken," which features scenes in various films in which people of color are speaking. The segments in "Every Single Word Spoken" are short and highlight how little speaking and screen time that people of color receive in film. Marron said the problem is "systematic."

"It's the people who finance movies who don't think that you can sell a movie without a famous white celebrity at the center of it," Marron said. "It's the directors who passed it who, especially if they're white and if it's a white storyteller, I think they're naturally going to cast people who look like them."

Research backs up Marron's statements about a lack of diversity all around. A USC study released last year looked at more than 300 shows and 100 movies from 2014 and found that 20 percent included zero black characters. Less than five percent of directors on the included films were female, and minorities only directed 12.7 percent of the films and less than ten percent of the broadcast series.

“The film industry still functions as a straight, white, boy’s club, in which girls and women make up less than one-third of all speaking characters, and comprise a small percentage of directors and writers of the major studio and art house releases of 2014,” the study concluded.