Michael Jackson fans around the world were shocked this week when it was announced that the artist would be played by a white English actor, Joseph Fiennes, in a new made-for-television film, Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon. The story centers around a legendary road trip that supposedly occurred immediately after September 11, when Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Marlon Brando were said to have fled New York City and taken a road trip to Ohio together
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.
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. In fact, in a 1993 interview with Oprah, he was offended at the very suggestion of being played by a white actor in a commercial! This casting is an insult to the very real professional struggles and health issues Jackson dealt with during his lifetime.
Casting for this role couldn't have been easy given the star's unusual appearance, but people of color come in a wide range of skin tones, so surely there must be a light-skinned black or mixed-race actor out there who would have been suitable for the part.
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.
If you're upset about this casting decision, please sign this petition and pledge to boycott Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon when it's released later this year. We may not be able to change the casting decisions for this particular film, but if enough of us protest, we can show directors that audiences refuse to watch movies with whitewashed roles.