In early January, a popular British comedy series named Urban Myths released a trailer for an upcoming special titled “Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon,” in which late pop icon Michael Jackson is portrayed by white actor Joseph Fiennes. However, after heavy scrutiny by both the public and Jackson’s family, the documentary has now been canceled.
The half-hour comedy sketch was set to revolve around the true story of a road trip taken by Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando to escape New York City post-9/11. The sketch was a part of a series meant to recount the “remarkable stories from well-known historical, artistic and cultural figures, which may or may not have happened in real life,” according to the British producer of the show, Sky Arts.
The news of Fiennes’ casting was released last year around the time of the Oscars, when Hollywood’s lack of diversity was already facing heavy criticism from the public, as seen by trending hashtags such as #OscarsSoWhite. When initially faced with backlash due to his casting, Fiennes defended himself by stating: “No one’s trying to do an exact impersonation, but it’s just a sense of the fun of the road trip. If it did happen, maybe it happened like this. That’s all it is, a lighthearted take.” He further told Entertainment Tonight that “[Jackson] was probably closer to my color than his original color,” which became lighter over time due to a disease called vitiligo, which caused depigmentation of the skin.
However, many were deeply offended by the portrayal of Jackson in the sketch, deeming it offensive and racist. Jackson’s daughter Paris took to to Twitter to voice her opinion regarding the documentary. “I’m so incredibly offended by it, as I’m sure plenty of people are as well, and it honestly makes me want to vomit,” she stated. “It angers me to see how obviously intentional it was for them to be this insulting, not just towards my father, but my godmother Liz as well.” Additionally, an online petition was created to garner public support over the issue, and it ended up gaining over 20,000 signatures.
On Jan. 13, Sky Arts released a statement that it would be cancelling the sketch “in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson’s immediate family” citing that Fiennes “fully supports our decision.” In an unrelated announcement just hours after the release of this statement, Lifetime announced that they would be creating a new documentary, “Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland,” highlighting the final days before his death.
(Sources: Los Angeles Times, CBS, Fox News)