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Joseph Fiennes Cast as Michael Jackson in 9/11 One-Off Comedy, Fuels Hollywood Race Controversy

joseph fiennes suit side view + michael jackson gold outfit screaming
Luca Teuchmann / Phil Walter, Getty Images

On Tuesday (January 26), British production company Sky Arts announced that they would be releasing a one-off, half-hour comedy about Michael Jackson that follows the late music icon on a very curious adventure in his life, The Guardian reports. It will be called Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon, and it will chronicle Jackson’s supposed cross-country road trip with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando as the trio fled from New York City after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

As the story goes—or at least how Vanity Fair first reported it—Taylor and Brando attended Jackson’s September 10 concert at Madison Square Garden. After the following day’s attacks they reportedly feared they’d be targets , and so the three hired a car to drive themselves to safety in California. They apparently only got as far as Ohio.

Although there is controversy over the truth and details of the story, the bigger controversy is Sky Arts’ decision to cast English film and stage actor Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love, American Horror Story: Asylum) as Jackson.

In what The Daily Beast is calling a “symptom of Hollywood’s deep-seated race problem,” the fact that Fiennes is white has caused an outpouring of anger on social media, with users sarcastically congratulating the “noted African-American actor Joseph Fiennes” for his casting (via Today).

The announcement that Fiennes will play Jackson comes hot on the heels of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, in which noted celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith, her husband Will Smith, and director Spike Lee have publicly boycotted this year’s awards due to a lack of diversity.

Fiennes may have said the script was a “challenge,” but it’s hard to imagine he could have anticipated this kind of challenge.

 Revel in These Celebrity Transformations, Featurng MJ + More!

Next: New MJ Documentary Highlights ‘Off the Wall’ Era

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