Oh, Boy. Joseph Fiennes Cast as Michael Jackson in Upcoming 9/11 Road Trip Comedy.
Following 9/11, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson are rumored to have attempted to carpool from New York to Los Angeles together. The urban legend inspired a short story by Zadie Smith, and definitely sounds like it has the makings for an interesting movie, but Sky Arts’ upcoming comedy special Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon does not sound interesting (unless by “interesting” you mean “a whitewashed trainwreck”).
Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon will be written by Neil Forsyth (Other People’s Money), and will star Stockard Channing as Elizabeth Taylor, Brian Cox as Marlon Brando, and Joseph freakin’ Fiennes as Michael Jackson. Fiennes has described his role in the half-hour comedy as a “challenge”:
I got the script the other day. It’s a challenge. It’s a comedy. It doesn’t poke mean fun but it’s a story, possibly urban legend, whereby Michael, Marlon Brando, and Liz Taylor were all together the day before 9/11 doing a concert. Airspace was shut down and they couldn’t get out and Michael had the bright idea to go to hire a car and drive.
So the three of them got in a car and drove 500 miles to Los Angeles. It took them a while because they had to stop at a lot of Burger Kings for Marlon; but they got out!
It’s a lovely thing about Michael’s relationship with Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando. It’s a fun, light-hearted tongue in cheek road trip of what celebrity of that kind is like. But also it’s rather beautiful and poignant about their relationships as well.
There’s nothing “brave” about Fiennes taking on this part. There’s accepting an acting challenge that tests the limits of your craft, and then there’s accepting a role for which you are a totally inappropriate choice; a role that, by undertaking, you elect to be increasingly complicit in Hollywood’s persistent, blatant erasure of people of color. This role obviously falls into the latter camp.
Of course, at the time Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon is set, Jackson was experiencing symptoms of vitiligo, a condition which causes areas of skin to lose their pigment. He was also rumored to have undergone various cosmetic procedures in order to appear more European. But casting an actual European white man to play one of America’s most iconic black pop stars totally ignores the nuanced racial issues inherent in Jackson’s altered appearance, especially since there are black actors that could convincingly play a circa-2001 Jackson.
And no, casting Fiennes to play a black man is not, as I expect some people will argue, the same as casting Cate Blanchett to play Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. I’m Not There‘s gender-bent casting created more female representation in a movie that otherwise would have been overwhelmingly male. Blanchett’s role also didn’t take away representation from an under-served group in the way casting Fiennes to play Michael Jackson does.
In light of the increasingly vocal discussion surrounding #OscarsSoWhite and diversity in Hollywood, it’s extremely important to not kid ourselves here: casting Fiennes to play Michael Jackson isn’t about celebrating artistic license or an actor’s ability to transform for a role. It’s about the entertainment industry’s reluctance to bank on people of color.
(via The Daily Beast)
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