Everyone has something to say about Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, and none of it is very good.
The role has been at the center of controversy since the news of Fiennes’ casting was announced at the top of last year, but things were heightened even more yesterday when the first photos of Fiennes as the King of Pop were released. And no one was more turned off by what they saw than Jackson’s family.
Responding to Soledad OBrien‘s tweet voicing her disappointment with the first stills from the biopic(ish), Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson tweeted, “Unfortunately this is what my family has to deal with. No words could express the blatant disrespect.”
Fiennes, brother of the highly regarded actor Ralph Fiennes, is playing Jackson in a TV special on Sky Arts, an arts-oriented channel. The made-for-television film, Urban Myths, recalls the trip Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando made when driving from New York to Ohio in an attempt to get home in the ensuing chaos after the 9/11 attacks.
If you’re struggling to see the problem here, we’ll make it very clear for you—Fiennes, a white man, is playing Jackson, a black man.
Fans refuse to accept this, and while they may not be able to alter casting, they have set up a petition to boycott the film. “It’s easy to see why the story would make a compelling film—but it’s harder to understand why the actor best known for his role in Shakespeare in Love was the first choice to play one of the world’s most iconic black musicians,” the petition states.
“While there was much speculation during his life that Jackson ‘wanted to be white,’ the simple fact of the matter is that Jackson’s own words and actions showed that was untrue time and time again. Despite a public struggle with vitiligo, a rare skin disorder that results in the loss of pigment, he identified in interviews as a proud black man, and went out of his way to fight for better treatment of black artists in the entertainment industry.”
The petition—which has garnered over 20,000 signatures, and therefore is inching towards its 25,000 goal—continues: “It’s bad enough when actors of color are denied opportunities to play fictional characters of their own ethnicity due to the preferential treatment of white actors. But it’s absolutely inexcusable for a film to whitewash a movie based on an actual human being, whether his appearance was typical of what we expect a black man to look like or not.”
“It’s a tongue-in-cheek, fun, light look at three wonderful characters that we know,” Fiennes told ET Canada. “Some say it’s an urban legend and our story basically says that it happened, maybe it happened like this and they’re stuck in a car for 500 miles as they drive to Pennsylvania and we get to hear some of the shtick that goes on.”
Grease star Stockard Channing will play Taylor, who was a close friend of Jackson, and Scottish actor Brian Cox will portray Brando.