Date
18 January 2017
Joseph Fiennes (left) plays Michael Jackson in a controversial casting that has the internet fuming over an upcoming TV comedy about the late pop icon. Photo: The wrap
Joseph Fiennes (left) plays Michael Jackson in a controversial casting that has the internet fuming over an upcoming TV comedy about the late pop icon. Photo: The wrap

Social media torches Michael Jackson TV comedy casting

Michael Jackson lives in an upcoming TV comedy in the form of a noted British actor but there’s a problem.

The late pop star and icon of African-Americans will be played by Joseph Fiennes, who is white.

Reuters is reporting that the controversial casting is creating a social media storm and fueling a controversy in the entertainment industry over opportunities for black artists.

Already, the Academy Awards has been criticized for lack of diversity in the selection of this year’s Oscar nominees.

Fiennes will star in an apparently real-life story for Britain’s satellite TV channel Sky Arts about a road trip across the United States the singer is said to have taken in 2001 with movie stars Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.

Sky Arts said in a statement on Wednesday that the 30-minute comedy, called Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon, is part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history.

“Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set,” Sky Arts said.

Jackson, who had the medical condition vitiligo that lightened the color of his skin, died in June 2009 at the age of 50 after an overdose of the sedative propofol.

News of the casting came two weeks after the omission of any actors of color from the 2016 Oscar nominations for a second year that led Will Smith and Spike Lee to shun the Oscar ceremony in February and Oscar organizers to bring more women and people of color into their ranks.

Stereo Williams, an entertainment writer for The Daily Beast, said the casting of Fiennes was a “symptom of Hollywood’s deep-seated race problem”.

“They seriously couldn’t find a black actor to play Michael Jackson?” tweeted US civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement.

So-called “whitewashing” has become a contentious issue in the movie and TV industry, highlighted by the casting of Emma Stone as a character of Hawaiian and Asian heritage in the 2015 film “Aloha,” and the choice of white British actor Charlie Hunnam to play a Mexican-American drug lord in an upcoming Hollywood movie.

“Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon,” will also star Stockard Channing as Jackson’s late, close friend Taylor, and Brian Cox as Brando.

It is expected to be broadcast sometime in 2016.

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