Sky pulls plug on satirical TV series that cast white actor as Michael Jackson
Sky have pulled the broadcast of an episode of their satirical series Urban Myths after Michael Jackson’s children said they were sickened and offended by the portrayal of their father, played by Joseph Fiennes.
Paris-Michael Jackson, his daughter, tweeted after seeing the trailer, which shows Fiennes wearing facial prosthetics. The episode is a tongue-in-cheek dramatisation of a rumoured road trip taken by Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando in 2001, after 9/11.
The casting of a white actor as Jackson had already proved contentious, prompting accusations of whitewashing, though many pointed out that the singer’s skin had been considerably lighter by this point and he had undergone cosmetic surgery.
However, Jackson’s children were enraged by what they saw as the caricaturing of their father and his friend Taylor. Paris- Michael said: “It angers me to see how obviously intentional it was for them to be this insulting, not just towards my father, but my godmother, Liz, as well.
“Where is the respect? They worked through blood, sweat and tears for ages to create such profound and remarkable legacies. Shameful portrayal.”
Jackson’s nephew Taj also joined the chorus of disapproval after watching the trailer. “Unfortunately this is what my family has to deal with. No words could express the blatant disrespect.”
Sky has always been keen to emphasise Urban Myths is a comedy, and not intended as a biopic.
Speaking to the Guardian this week, Ben Palmer, the series director, said people should not jump to conclusions and described Fiennes’s performance of Jackson as a “really sweet, nuanced, characterful performance”. The episode had been due to air in April.
However, in a statement Sky said that after the concerns raised by Jackson’s family, they had decided to pull the episode, but insisted it was not one “taken lightly”.
“Sky is not in the habit of pulling programmes but we felt that this was the right decision to take,” they said. “Sky Arts puts the integrity of the creative vision at the heart of all of its original commissions, and casting decisions are made within the overall diversity framework which we have set.”
Fiennes has previously defended the casting, saying it had been a “wonderful challenge” to play Jackson and that people needed to remember it was in the context of satire.
Other urban myths brought to life in the series include the moment when Muhammad Ali talked a suicidal man down off a ledge in Los Angeles, the time Bob Dylan knocked on the wrong door of a house in Crouch End, and the period when Samuel Beckett would drive a young Andre the Giant to school. Palmer said while the episodes were based on a nugget of truth or rumour, they had taken “lots of poetic licence” to create the comedy.