In a not-too-surprising move, British network Sky Arts has decided to pull the plug on a wildly questionable episode from its upcoming anthology series Urban Myths, in which white person Joseph Fiennes portrays black person Michael Jackson as he goes on a road trip with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.
No matter how fair-skinned Jackson became in later life, this was still straight-up blackface on television in 2017. Shockingly, people were outraged by this. One of them was the late musician’s daughter Paris Jackson, who said that she was “incredibly offended.”
“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,” Paris wrote.
Sky Arts quickly pulled the plug after that, writing:
We have taken the decision not to broadcast ‘Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon,’ a 30 minute episode from the Sky Arts Urban Myths series. This decision was taken in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson’s immediate family. We set out to take a light-hearted look at reportedly true events & never intended to cause any offense. Joseph Fiennes fully supports our decision.
Why Sky Arts ever thought that Jackson’s family would not have a problem with its show is the biggest question about all this.
The Fiennes casting first caused a stir when it was announced last year. In a statement released to People then, Sky Arts said: “Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set.” Yet, from the looks of the trailer Michael Jackson is the only person of color featured in the series. They couldn’t even find the ‘creative freedom’ for a black person to play him?
Last year, Fiennes spoke to Rolling Stone and also defended his role on the series. “I deal in imagination, so I don’t think imagination should have rules stamped on them,” he said. He was also shocked that the show decided to cast him for the role in general (us too!).
Once again: having a white person portray a person of color on film is not creative or imaginative, it’s offensive. In fact, maybe Fiennes should read up on blackface, brownface, and yellowface to get a clearer picture of why this isn’t OK.