In Depth

Michael Jackson fans outraged by Joseph Fiennes's portrayal

Singer's daughter Paris among those who brand new Urban Myths series 'shameful'

Michael Jackson Joseph Fiennes

A new trailer for Sky Arts's Urban Myths TV film, starring Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, has shocked and outraged many of the late singer's fans.

Originally titled Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon, the made-for-television production is part of an anthology series titled Urban Myths: A Brand New Collection of Comedies, featuring what it calls "true…ish stories" that have circulated as rumours and urban legends.

The half-hour film depicts Jackson taking a road trip to California with Marlon Brando (played by Brian Cox) and Elizabeth Taylor (Stockard Channing) after US airports were shut down in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The trailer shows a nervous looking Jackson in the car with Taylor and Brando when they are stopped by a traffic police officer. Later, Jackson is shown running and skipping across a road. The trailer also shows footage from other films in the series, including Hitler as a young artist, Bob Dylan hanging out with Dave Stewart and Cary Grant and Timothy Leary taking LSD.

But it's the casting of Shakespeare in Love star, Fiennes, as Jackson that has caused all the fuss. The decision to cast a white actor in the role prompted accusations of "whitewashing" when it was first announced, with Fiennes admitting in Rolling Stone that he was in "sensitive" territory. However, he says he accepted the part because it was "positive entertainment" and a "very sweet comedy".  

The new trailer has stirred even more of a furore, with many condemning it as disrespectful, culturally insensitive or just plain ridiculous.

Jackson's daughter, Paris, says she is "incredibly offended" by Fiennes's "shameful portrayal" of her father, adding that it "makes me want to vomit".   

A Jackson podcast, The MJCast, has called on its fans to boycott the film about "one of the world's most iconic black musicians" because it is "culturally insensitive".

Some viewers, however, were amused by it all, joking on Twitter that Fiennes resembles a scarecrow or a "battle re-enactment fan with a metal detector".

Director Ben Palmer has defended his casting choice in The Guardian. "We were casting Michael Jackson in 2001 and that obviously is a challenge in terms of the physical resemblance," he said. Palmer added that he felt Fiennes could "unlock the spirit" of the role and that he had given "a really sweet, nuanced, characterful performance".

Urban Myths starts on 19 January on Sky Arts.

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