People Are Not Happy About Joseph Fiennes' Casting As Michael Jackson For UK TV Comedy

28 January 2016 | 2:22 pm | Staff Writer

It's as if #OscarsSoWhite never even happened

We don't mean to be blunt about this, but Michael Jackson was African-American. Yes, he became increasingly pale on the surface as his life went on — the symptoms of skin-lightening condition vitiligo, and a litany of rhinoplasty, had unarguably taken hold by the '90s — but, as Mic points out, even then he was, in his own words, "a black American and … proud of it".

In fact, he even went on record with Oprah Winfrey in 1993, explaining that, should a film be made about his life, he would not want a white actor to portray him

All of which makes the decision by UK channel Sky Arts to cast notable actor and renowned white guy Joseph Fiennes as the late King Of Pop for an upcoming TV comedy all the more inexplicable, especially in a post-#OscarsSoWhite world.

The half-hour special, tentatively titled Elizabeth, Michael & Marlonfollows Jackson and fellow icons Elizabeth Taylor (Stockard Channing) and Marlon Brando (Brian Cox) as they embark on a road trip to get home in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. According to Sky Arts, the show will be a "comedy which takes a light-hearted look at a reportedly true event".

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As the story goes — according to the 2011 Vanity Fair article in which it first appeared — Jackson had invited Taylor and Brando to a concert of his at Madison Square Garden at the time of the September 11 attacks. With flights into and out of New York City grounded — and fearing for their safety as high-profile individuals — the trio apparently rented a car and set off for safer ground out Los Angeles way. 

"It is part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history," a rep said in a statement provided to Mic. "Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set."

Framework-approved or not, Fiennes' casting has been condemned across all corners of social media since its announcement, and though the actor has attempted some modicum of damage control — he told E! News he was "shocked" to have been cast, though he seems quite happy to have accepted the role nonetheless, telling Us Weekly that Jackson "was probably closer to my colour than his original colour".

Even the Jackson family themselves have weighed in on the controversy, though their issue seems to be more with the entire concept than with the casting, with nephew TJ Jackson telling ET Online the decision is "offensive to me and my family for my uncle Michael to be portrayed in a comedy taking place around 9/11" but that he has "no comment on the casting of the project".

Either way, it's not looking like this is a choice for which the tides of social sentiment are going to turn any time soon.

See a selection of tweets from the fallout below.