“It don’t matter if you’re black or white”—what we imagine the casting call read for the part of Michael Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon.
The made-for-TV movie tells the story of American actors Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando escaping New York City with the King of Pop in the midst of the September 11th attacks, The Guardian reports. As the Twin Towers collapsed, rumors swirled that the three celebrities embarked on a road trip from Manhattan to Los Angeles to cope with travel bans. Ten years later, sources from both Jackson’s and Taylor’s camps came forward to Vanity Fair with conflicting stories of what did and did not happen. Now, comedy writer Neil Forsyth is putting his own spin on the tale with director Ben Palmer in Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, debuting on Sky Arts later this year.
Grease’s Rizzo, Stockard Channing, bears a close resemblance to her character, Taylor. Alongside her as Brando will be Scottish actor Brian Cox, known for his parts in Deadwood, L.I.E., and X2: X-Men United. The role of Jackson went to Joseph Fiennes, who starred as William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love and is the brother of Maid In Manhattan star Ralph Fiennes. The Brit told WENN that the script posed a “challenge” before elaborating on the half-hour plotline. Fiennes said, “It’s a lovely thing about Michael’s relationship with Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando. It’s a fun, light-hearted tongue in cheek road trip of what celebrity of that kind is like. But also it’s rather beautiful and poignant about their relationships as well.”
To the dismay of many, the one black protagonist in the comedic drama will be portrayed by a Caucasian. Casting directors may have been inspired by the lightness of Jackson’s skin exhibited in 2001 during the terrorist attacks. However, much of the pop singer’s acclaim is attributed to his door-opening actions for African-Americans and pride in his racial identity. The casting announcement for Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon simultaneously occurred as Comedy Central’s @midnight spoofed the Oscars’ lack of diversity with #MakeAMovieWhiter, prompting critics to add another hashtag and Fiennes to their existing discussions on inclusivity in film and television.
Actor Orlando Jones tweeted, “I’m TOTALLY on board with Joseph Fiennes playing Michael Jackson IF AND ONLY IF Angela Bassett is cast as Elizabeth Taylor.” He then said, “I await the inevitable Oscar nom for the weirdest version of blackface EVER. #OscarsSoWTF. I’ve made my point. Trollando out.”
And others joined him:
Evan Ross been ready. RT @deray They seriously couldn’t find a black actor to play Michael Jackson? pic.twitter.com/fQPHA5swXt
— the other one (@imfromraleigh) January 27, 2016
Congratulations to noted African-American actor Joseph Fiennes on being cast as Michael Jackson…
— Scott Mendelson (@ScottMendelson) January 27, 2016
They’re getting a white man to play Michael Jackson. Because you know, EVERY BLACK ACTOR IS BUSY. I am unable to can. iCan’t.
— Awesomely Luvvie (@Luvvie) January 26, 2016
Oddly enough, it won’t be the first time I’ll see Joseph Fiennes portray a man of color. I saw him 20 years ago as Jesus in a London play.
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) January 26, 2016