Joseph Fiennes’ Michael Jackson Portrayal in ‘Urban Myths’ Canceled After Family, Fans Express Outrage

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Joseph Fiennes and Michael Jackson (Sky Arts screenshot/anamakingon)

The British TV show featuring a white actor playing Michael Jackson has spurred so much heat from the public that the network has opted to cancel the episode. Social media blasted Sky Art’s decision to have English actor Joseph Fiennes play the singer in “Urban Myths: A Brand New Collection of TV Comedies.” There also are questions about whether the episode’s plot of a rumored trip Michael took with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando actually happened.

In a statement released in a series of tweets Friday, Jan. 13, Sky Arts said it wouldn’t air the episode, noting, “We set out to take a lighthearted look at reportedly true events and never intended to cause any offense.”

Sky Arts had previously defended its choice to cast Fiennes as Michael, telling People it “gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set.”

The episode featuring Michael is titled “Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon.” Its premise is based on a reported road trip the singer, Taylor and Brando took when planes were grounded after 9/11. The plot follows the eight-episode series’ greater theme of tackling rumored stories about celebrities.

The story of the Michael episode came from a 2011 story in Vanity Fair told by one of the singer’s ex-employees, who remained anonymous. After Michael got his staff to New Jersey after the attacks, the former worker said the celebrity trio drove across the country. But, one of Taylor’s close friends disputes the claim and said Taylor remained in New York.

On Twitter Wednesday, Jan. 11, Michael’s daughter, Paris, bashed Fiennes’ portrayal of her father.

The rest of the Jackson family shared her outrage.

T.J., the son of Michael’s brother Tito, told The Insider a white actor playing his Black uncle is a disgrace to the Black community.

“My uncle was incredibly proud of his heritage and of who he was,” T.J. said. “He was proud to be a Black man who suffered from the skin disease vitiligo. He loved all people as my entire family does. But, for a white actor to play my uncle, a Black man, is insulting to him, his legacy, his family, his fans and really the entire Black community. This isn’t [a] comedy, it’s a disgusting mockery with no taste.”

Social media users also questioned why a white actor was playing the “Beat It” singer.

Michael himself previously had expressed incredulity at the idea of a white actor playing him onscreen. In a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, he vehemently denied a rumor that he wanted a white star to play his younger self in a commercial.

“That’s the most ridiculous, horrifying story I’ve ever heard,” Michael said. “Number one, it’s my face as a child in the commercial. Me when I was little. Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a Black American. I’m a Black American. I’m proud to be a Black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am.”

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