White Actor Cast to Play Michael Jackson in New Film

It’s no secret that the film industry has a problem with race — in just the past couple of weeks, there’s been a massive outcry over the fact that the actors nominated for this year’s Oscars are entirely white, and it seems every couple of months a new director is in the news for casting white actors as characters originally written as members of other ethnic groups.

Now, not even a month into 2016, we have a new reason to be outraged: A white English actor, Joseph Fiennes, has been cast in the role of Michael Jackson in an upcoming made for television comedy in the U.K., called 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.

The casting decision is directly related to confusion over Jackson’s skin tone, which gradually became lighter and lighter throughout his years in the public eye. At the height of his fame, rumors swirled that he was trying to become white through plastic surgery and by bleaching his skin. In fact, the star suffered for years from a rare autoimmune condition called vitiligo, which causes the immune system to attack the pigment-producing cells of the skin. He reportedly used skin-whitening cosmetics to even out the patches of discoloration.

Unfortunately, this disorder, which only affects about 1 percent of the population, wasn’t very well-known when Jackson first began to show symptoms. For many people, model Winnie Harlow’s appearance on America’s Next Top Model in 2014 was the first time they’d ever really seen a public figure with the disease who didn’t attempt to cover up the patchy color patterns on her skin with cosmetics. Her distinctive appearance has been the key to her success, but just because she’s chosen to embrace her condition doesn’t mean we should look down on those, like Jackson, who prefer to even out their skin tone for public appearances. Even Winnie admits that she grew up being bullied for looking different, so it’s hard to blame anyone for trying to cover up their condition.

Still, the idea that Jackson “wanted to be white” persists, despite his insistence during interviews that he was proud to be a black American and identified strongly with the black community. In a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, he responded to a rumor that he wanted to have a white actor play him in a commercial by calling the story “ridiculous” and “horrifying.” Similarly overlooked is the fact that he continued to speak out against racism and discrimination against other black artists throughout his lifetime. There are people who still insist that the star didn’t really have vitiligo and was using it as a cover for his changing appearance — even though it was clearly diagnosed during his autopsy. A film about Jackson could have been a chance to set the record straight on this issue.

This brings us back to the puzzling casting decision for Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon. 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. Not only is this casting decision incredibly disrespectful to Jackson’s own wishes to be depicted only by black actors, but in an industry where minority actors are still fighting to be taken seriously and considered for leading roles, it’s actively harmful to other black entertainers trying to make a name for themselves.

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 complete erasure of Michael Jackson’s cultural identity and willful misrepresentation of his public struggles with his health, join me in pledging to boycott the film when it airs later this year.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons and Antonio Manfredonio

103 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba1 years ago

I didn't sign the petition because it doesn't matter, I won't be watching the movie, I don't need to see another MJ movie. The movie I saw about his earlier life when he was brown skin was enough for me.

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Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba1 years ago

Wow

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 1 years ago

What's wrong with that? After all, the actor IS a white man! Thanks for posting.

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Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

I would not watch it anyway.

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Adam Costello
.1 years ago

Let's face it, no matter what colour he was born with by the late stages of his life he was whiter than the white sliced bread I buy for sandwiches.
If this was a movie about his early life then the castng choice wouldn't be appropriate, but it isn't.

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FOTEINI HORBOU
FOTEINI horbou1 years ago

I'm sure the actor who will play Michael Jackson when he was young boy or on his teens would be black. After, i don't know....

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld1 years ago

Yes Carl. It is amazing how hypocritical this site can be.

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Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen1 years ago

A petition to deny a man a job because of the colour of his skin - how can care2 support anything so racist?

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 1 years ago

So what? Jackson obviously wanted to be white instead of black, as evidenced by the fact that he had his skin bleached!! He claimed he had "vitiligo," however, that wasn't the case! I retired from the medical field, and patients with vitiligo have very splotchy, uneven skin areas; Jackson's skin was even throughout.

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