Michael Jackson White Actor Controversy: Joseph Fiennes Not Walking Away From Role

Michael Jackson never wanted a white actor to play him, according to a comment he made to Oprah Winfrey years before his death. The decision to cast white actor Joseph Fiennes to play the controversial pop star has sparked backlash from some who feel not only should a black actor should portray Jackson, but believe a lack of diversity exists in the entertainment industry.

Joseph Fiennes was chosen to play Michael Jackson in the British comedy television series, Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon. In the 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson addressed rumors that he wanted a white boy to play him in a Pepsi commercial. The pop star said nothing could be further from the truth. He referred to himself as a proud black American and would never welcome having an individual from another race portray him.


Michael Jackson underwent an extreme physical transformation over his years as an entertainer. Jackson claimed that a skin condition caused the tone of his flesh to go from a deep brown to a very light and pale shade of white. Allegations that Jackson underwent cosmetic surgery to thin his nose and reduce his lip size also sparked rumors that the “Beat It” singer was attempting to look white.

“I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am,” Jackson told Winfrey when he asked her and everyone to stop believing all of the “horrifying” stories about him. “That’s like you [Oprah] wanting an oriental person to play you as a child. Does that make sense?”

In addition to the skin tone and facial features rumors, which followed Jackson in the decade or so before his death, additional eyebrows were raised about his gender. The singer and dancer was often photographed wearing lipstick, eye shadow, and eyeliner, leading to questions that he was attempting to look more feminine and might have been transgender. Jackson repeatedly dismissed such claims, MSN reports.

During an Oprah interview, he said that he had been in love with two women, one of whom was Brooke Shields. When Winfrey asked the singer if he was a virgin, he said the question embarrassed him and would only state that he was a “gentleman.”

Oprah Winfrey went on to discuss the lightness of his skin color and asked if he did not like being black. Jackson appeared to dislike discussing the topic. He told Winfrey that he suffered from a skin disease that destroys pigmentation. Michael went on to claim that he cannot help the change in skin tone and said that when people say he does not like being a black man, it hurts his feelings.

“It’s a problem for me. I can’t control it, okay?” Jackson added.

Not only has the decision to cast a white actor to play Michael Jackson caused racial diversity backlash, but the comedic tone of the British TV show has sparked angst from fans as well. During an interview with ET Canada, Joseph Fiennes called Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon is a “tongue-in-cheek comedy with a fun, light look” at the three performers as the trio goes on a road trip together.

Joseph Fiennes is not the only entertainer to play the king of pop. On Saturday Night Live, comedienne Amy Poehler donned a curly dark wig and portrayed Jackson in a comedy sketch as well.


Fiennes said that he was surprised to be offered the Michael Jackson part.

“He [Jackson] was probably closer to my color than his original color. It’s a light comedy look. It’s not in any way malicious. It’s actually endearing,” Fiennes said when defending casting a white actor to play Michael Jackson.

[Photo by Brenda Chase/Online USA/Getty Images]

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