There’s uncomfortable, and then there’s Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in the Urban Myths trailer, which takes the feeling to a whole new level and seriously makes one wonder, “Why?!”
The film, which imagines the Shakespeare in Love and American Horror Story: Asylum actor as the King of Pop taking his rumored post-9/11 cross-country road trip with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando (yes, this might have actually happened), dropped its first trailer on Tuesday, January 10th. And from Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) playing Hitler and “Hitler’s friend” to the insane whitewashing of Fiennes’ face, the internet is (understandably) baffled.
The film will air on Sky Arts, an arts channel, in the United Kingdom, and Fiennes initially defended his casting after he was accused of whitewashing MJ back when his involvement in the project was announced.
“This is territory that is sensitive,” he said. “One must determine if this portrayal is one that is going to be positive entertainment, and one that will not bring about division and put anyone’s noses out of joint, so I went with the mind that this was a positive light-hearted comedy.”
… Unfortunately for Fiennes, from the looks of things on social media, at least a few noses are “out of joint.” Reactions tend to range from upset to mocking to bewilderment to a mix of all three.
And no matter what your thoughts are on Urban Myths itself or of Fiennes as an actor, they all have a point. Whitewashing has been going on in Hollywood for years, from Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange to Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia and so, so many more, with roles decidedly meant for an actor of color to play frequently going to white actors instead (which almost never happens in the inverse, so don’t even try).
Hopefully, given the power of resources like Twitter to get previously unheard voices out there, as well as the power of purchase movie (and TV) viewers have to influence casting decisions, grown-worthy casting choices like this one will be left in 2016 like the phrase “on fleek” and our nation’s dignity.