It was announced this week that the white, British actor Joseph Fiennes is to play Michael Jackson in a TV Special that follows Jackson and friends on a road trip supposedly taken right after 9/11. When this casting decision was announced, it did not take long for the people of the internet to express their (mostly negative) opinions.
In the wake of the #OscarSoWhite situation, it did not come as a surprise to me that there was so much uproar about this casting decision. In fact, I am also very upset. I respect Joseph Fiennes as an actor (love him in Shakespeare in Love and American Horror Story), but I could never picture him as Michael Jackson. To me, Michael Jackson was a black male who suffered from a skin disorder. Joseph Fiennes does not even come close to fitting this description. There are so many talented black actors who I’m sure could have taken on the role.
Joseph Fiennes responded to the uproar by simply playing it off. He said he was also surprised by the casting choice, but that the special is a crazy comedy and people are taking it too seriously. The thing is, even though it is just a short, comedic TV special, it just adds to the long lists of films and TV shows that lack true representation and diversity. It makes it seem like it is normal for white people to portray people of color. It simply carries on a trend that needs to stop.
Being an avid tumblr stalker, I couldn’t help but come across a quote that Michael Jackson gave in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey. There was a rumor the Jackson wanted a white child to portray him in a commercial. He responded to this claim by stating, “That’s the most ridiculous, horrifying story I’ve ever heard. It’s crazy. I mean, why? Number one, it’s my face as a child in the commercial. Me, when I was little. Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a black American. I’m proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride in who I am and dignity.”
It is clear that Michael Jackson himself would not be okay with this casting decision, as it does not represent who he truly was.