White actor Joseph Fiennes has been cast to play Michael Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon, a new comedy based on a rumored story about how the King of Pop tried to flee New York City, along with Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, after the 9/11 attacks.
In less than a day since its announcement, the film is being held up as another tone-deaf scenario involving race in the filmmaking industry in the wake of the Oscars controversy.
Detractors of the casting rushed to Twitter to air their grievances.
Wait wait wait. Joseph Fiennes is playing MJ? This wasn't a joke?
— This Is Rochelle (@RR416) January 27, 2016
Joseph Fiennes can play Michael Jackson. (A real person). But Idris can't play James Bond (a fake spy for a fake agency)? Cool, cool, cool.
— Prentice Penny (@The_A_Prentice) January 27, 2016
Congratulations to noted African-American actor Joseph Fiennes on being cast as Michael Jackson…
— Scott Mendelson (@ScottMendelson) January 27, 2016
“Why was a white actor cast to play an African American entertainer?” asked The Daily Beast.
The parody’s frontman, for his part, has addressed his placement as Michael Jackson. “It’s a fun, light-hearted tongue-in-cheek road trip of what celebrity of that kind is like,” Fiennes said of the film. “But also it’s rather beautiful and poignant about their relationships as well.”
Offering more clarity on the film was a spokesman for Sky Arts, the U.K.-based channel on which the Michael Jackson movie is set to air.
“Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon is a Sky Arts comedy which takes a light hearted look at a reportedly true event; Joseph Fiennes is cast as Michael Jackson,” a statement released by Sky Arts said, according to Inside Edition. “It is part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history. Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set.”
Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon is set to be released in 2016.