Justice

Michael Jackson Tells Us How He Really Felt About a White Guy Playing Him in a Movie

January 28th 2016

By:
Steven Thomas Kent

MIchael Jackson fans and Black activists alike have been voicing their collective outrage after learning that a white actor will play the King of Pop in an upcoming U.K. television special.

 

The half-hour show, titled "Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon," involves a supposedly-true story about Jackson piling into a rental car with actors Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando to flee post-9/11 New York City in a 500-mile mad dash to Ohio. The Guardian announced on Tuesday that white British actor Joseph Fiennes, of "Shakespeare In Love" fame, had been cast in the role of Jackson.

Media and Twitter reactions were not kind.

Now, the story gets a little worse for the show and the network that's airing it, Sky Arts. Turns out that MJ actually tacked the issue of a white actor potentially playing him in a 1993 interview with Oprah, and he didn't mince words: the idea horrified him.

Here's what Jackson had to say when Winfrey asked him about the rumor that he wanted a white actor to play a young version of himself for a Pepsi commercial:

"That is so stupid. That's the most ridiculous, horrifying story I've ever heard. It's crazy. It's my face as a child in the commercial: Me when I was little. Why would I want a white child to play me? I'm a Black American . . . I'm proud to be a Black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. That's like you [Oprah] wanting an oriental person to play you as a child."

You can jump to the 23:49 mark in the video below to hear Jackson's remarks.

 

BET especially savaged the move, running an article with the headline "Fix it, Jesus" and decrying Fiennes' casting on Twitter as another example of Hollywood's diversity problem.

The film and television industries have a history of casting white actors to play characters of color — just in the last year there was backlash over Emma Stone cast to play an Asian-American character in "Aloha," and many petitioned against Rooney Mara playing Tiger Lilly in "Pan."

What about a comedy?

The one possible defense that the producers of the show have: It's a comedy show about a zany bit of pop culture apocrypha that may or may not have actually happened.

So does comedy get to play by different rules? Saturday Night LIve waded into these waters a few years ago when they cast white and Asian actor Fred Armisen as Barack Obama, even though they had a capable Black comedian who wanted the role in Jay Pharoah. The move stirred a discussion on "blackface" roles in comedy, and the show eventually replaced Armisen with Pharoah as Obama.

For that matter, what about a white guy playing a white actor whose character goes full blackface as a way for a film to mock the clueless, insular delusions of prima-donna Hollywood actors?

Whatever you think of those examples, one thing is clear: Michael Jackson's wishes to not be played by a white actor.