I’m sure there comes a time in an actor’s life when he has a role he regrets. For example, I’m sure John Travolta regrets Face Off. And Jamie Foxx regrets the black version of Taken. I fully understand the concept of “a check is a check.” But in the case of Joseph Fiennes and a role we’ll never get to see, he still wishes people could see the short movie in which he played Michael Jackson.
For what, though?
In an interview with Vulture about his role in Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Fiennes discussed his part earlier this year in Sky TV’s Urban Myths. Fiennes played Jackson in the urban legend about a road trip the late pop star took with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando after 9/11.
But remember, no matter how light Jackson was because of vitiligo, he wasn’t a white man like Fiennes. The casting caused an uproar, because most people felt there was no way he should portray Jackson. And would they have even thought about casting a black woman as Taylor—because after all, it’s just satire, right?
In the interview, Fiennes spoke about why he took on the role of Jackson:
Well, it’s a satire, so we have to look at it through that lens. The depiction of the three characters is very satirical, comic, lighthearted, to examine the disconnect of iconic celebrity. But it’s good that people stand up for [what they believe], and I’m all for that. I’m all for that discussion, and it means a lot to me and my fellow actors to talk about casting, getting it right, getting it wrong, and then if there’s a mistake, to examine that mistake and talk about it. Maybe the controversy is good if it brings about discussion. But it is satire. It’s a 20-minute sketch, and it’s lighthearted.
Fortunately for most of us, Fiennes’ episode will never be aired, but he still doesn’t seem to get why.
“Should we shut down the arts and directors and writers based on that, which has happened?” Fiennes said. “If you don’t like the comedian, don’t go see him, but do you shut him and his satirical material down? Do you become a totalitarian state where you go, ‘That’s offensive’?”
The writer went on to explain the history of blackface to Fiennes, and he seemed to come to his senses a little. And kinda, sorta apologized if he offended anyone:
If it comes anywhere near that criminal and hateful sensibility, then I’m deeply regretful and embarrassed, but there’s a part of me that would love people to see it and get into a discussion. I’d love to sit down and examine that as a subject. But that is abhorrent, and if it treads anywhere near that, then it’s good that it’s shut down.
And before you jump up and down and say, “Well, Michael wanted to be white!” here’s his interview with Oprah from 1993, in which he said that he didn’t want anyone white playing him because he’s black. Jackson went on to discuss his vitiligo:
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. That’s like you [Oprah] wanting an Oriental person to play you as a child. Does that make sense?