Michael Jackson is involved in whitewashing controversy. Jackson isn’t around to give his two cents about the casting. Frankly, probably no one saw this coming. British company Sky Arts announced in December that it will be producing a biopic based on a road trip that included pop-culture icons Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando. The film stars Stockard Channing (Elizabeth Taylor), Brian Cox (Marlon Brando), and Joseph Fiennes (Michael Jackson). The film will be penned by the writer of Delete This at Your Peril, Neil Forsyth.
In 2011, Vanity Fair broke the story behind this road trip, which took place on September 11, 2001, in New York City. Michael Jackson had performed at Madison Square Garden on September 10, in the company of his close friends, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brandon. On September 11, the three friends found themselves stuck in New York after the Twin Towers and Building Seven collapsed. When they tried leaving the hotel, Michael and Marlon were besieged by fans banging on their limo and were followed down the street. Elizabeth Taylor was located at another hotel, but eventually the trio met up. Unable to find any flights due to the tragedy, they decided to drive out of the city.
An employee of Michael Jackson recalls the incident and how Jackson took charge and led everyone to safety. Jackson led his entourage to a temporary safe haven in New Jersey before the three superstars took to the open road. All three of them drove as far as Ohio, and when the airports finally opened up, they all flew home.
Sounds like this could be a fun road trip movie. However, Joseph Fiennes cast as Michael Jackson is extremely problematic. He commented on how he felt about the script via The Guardian
Fiennes has now described the script as “a challenge”, adding: “It’s a fun, lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek road trip of what celebrity of that kind is like. But also it’s rather beautiful and poignant about their relationships.”
In the time of the Oscar boycott, #Oscarsowhite, and everyone questioning the diversity and ethics of Hollywood, some say this casting news reinforces that changes need to be made but are not happening fast enough. This is evident from the casting of European actors Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, and now Charlie Hunnam in a biopic of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, an infamous Mexican drug kingpin.
According to Vanity Fair, Hunnam could have been cast as Villereal due to his blonde hair, blue eyes, and light skin. This is what earned Villereal the nickname “La Barbie.” Hunnam isn’t necessarily a box office draw, but film producers are surely trying to capitalize on the actor’s Son’s of Anarchy fandom. That argument probably won’t hold weight in the court of public opinion though.
Michael Jackson is an icon, and as such should be treated with respect. Rightfully so, the public isn’t letting things slide any longer. Casting Joseph Fiennes and Charlie Hunnam in roles featuring people of color only shows Hollywood is choosing to move backward. The diversity outrage has lead the Oscar academy to make vast changes to its voting system, but when are Hollywood studios finally going to catch up? People are getting impatient. If they want their films to be financially successful, studios should make and promote films that appeal to all groups of people, not just a select few.
[Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images]