As if the entertainment and film industries haven’t been disrespectful enough to minority actors, a white man has been cast to play black music icon Michael Jackson — this is just the icing on the cake.
British actor Joseph Fiennes will play the late Jackson in a fictional drama about 9/11 focusing on a fake road trip with Jackson, Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor (Yes, extremely bizarre storyline but that's another issue).
Fiennes confirmed the casting to WENN on Tuesday saying, “I got the script the other day. It’s a challenge. It’s a comedy. It doesn’t poke mean fun but it’s a story, possibly urban legend… 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.”
He conveniently forgot to address how challenging it also will be to play a black man, considering he isn’t one.
Some may argue that because the film is a comedy, having a white actor just enhances the dramatization and silliness, except, Brando and Taylor will both be played by actors of their same respective races.
Of course, the running joke in every ethnic community is that Jackson “turned white” over the years preceding his death, but that isn’t meant to be taken literally.
The pigment of Jackson’s skin didn’t change the fact that he was born to two black parents and identified as black.
Furthermore, there are plenty of fair-skinned black actors who could have been casted.
Actually, even a black actor with relatively dark skin could play the role thanks to the fascinating skill of makeup artistry that can very well transform brown skin to a much lighter shade.
Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams sums it up nicely: “...It’s not just about a stunt casting. It’s about opportunity. It’s about respect. It’s about thinking through the choices, and taking a minute to ask, ‘Do we have so few white people working in entertainment right now that we need to cast them as black people?’ And then asking, ‘Isn’t that a ridiculous question?’”
Minority actors already fight tooth and nail for roles that don’t perpetuate images of oppression while simultaneously struggling to get deserved recognition for stellar performances (as evidenced by all the Oscar snubs).
How many times and how many ways does it need to be explained?
This situation is reminiscent of the controversy surrounding a British black actress recently cast as Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger for an upcoming stage play. Some may question if there’s a double standard that actors of color can play whoever, but white actors cannot.
Here’s why that would be a totally inaccurate assessment:
1) J.K. Rowling, herself, told fans that Hermione’s race was never described in the books. The only physical features mentioned were her brown eyes and frizzy hair which are features that can, and typically do, belong to black women.
2) Hermione Granger is a fictional character; therefore, her appearance is based on imagination and interpretation. Jackson was a real living human being.
3) Fiennes’ acting ability is not being doubted based on his race. However, the issue is that roles for minority actors are universally scarce so it sends an overall discouraging message to society when a black actor can’t even snag a role to portray another black person.
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