After much backlash, the Sky Arts network has decided to cancel the airing of an Urban Myths episode involving a controversial portrayal of the late Michael Jackson. The decision was strongly induced by the offense expressed by members of Jackson’s family, including his daughter Paris and his nephew Taj. Jackson was set to be played by 46-year-old British actor Joseph Fiennes, a white man.
A trailer for Urban Myths, an eight-episode comedy series that’s set to premiere in the U.K. on Jan. 19, came out earlier this week, and it included clips from the “Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon” episode that incited immediate controversy. The episode was supposed to depict Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Marlon Brando embarking on a road trip away from New York after the 9/11 attacks, which is apparently a popular urban legend.
“We have taken the decision not to broadcast ‘Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon,’ a half-hour episode from the Sky Arts Urban Myths series, in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson’s immediate family,” said Sky Arts in a statement, as reported by Rolling Stone. “We set out to take a lighthearted look at reportedly true events and never intended to cause any offense.” The company claims that Joseph Fiennes “fully supports” the decision.
A couple of days ago, Paris Jackson tweeted that she was “incredibly offended” by the way her father was shown in the trailer, writing that the portrayal “makes me want to vomit.” Taj Jackson was similarly offended, and he, too, took to Twitter, writing, “No words could express the blatant disrespect.”
Many who spoke out against Fiennes’ depiction of Jackson were outraged that Urban Myths had decided to cast a white man to play the late pop icon. The character that Fiennes intended to play was Jackson in his early-40s — when Jackson’s pigmentation had changed dramatically so that his skin color did resemble that of a white man’s. One then wonders if these detractors would think it suitable for a black man to play an elder Jackson, during the palest stages of his life. In any case, it’s likely that a white man won’t be playing MJ — regardless of age — anytime soon.