Michael Jackson released Off the Wall in August 1979. The album’s influence would stretch across the 80’s, 90’s and beyond and become a pop/R&B classic. Last month filmmaker Spike Lee released the documentary Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall. On this episode of Inside Pop we review the movie and test our knowledge of Jackson trivia. It’s a fun episode in which my co-host, our special guest and I let our Jackson fan flag wave!
Readers of this blog know how I feel about Michael Jackson (in a nutshell – no other musician’s music has meant more to me). So you may be wondering how I felt when I heard that Joseph Fiennes was cast to play Jackson in a TV production about the alleged road trip Michael took with Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando in the wake of the 9/11 attack on New York City. Initially I felt bemused, but the more I thought about it the angrier and more suspicious I became. Yes Michael’s appearance drastically changed over the years. Beginning in the early 80’s and over the next few decades his nose narrowed, his skin lightened and his hair straightened. How much of that change was an act of self hatred? Necessary reinvention? An unfortunate pigmentation disorder? We’re all allowed to conjecture. But casting a white British actor to portray MJ feels like an intentionally blunt way to deal with the world’s most famous – and most complicated – Black entertainer.
And in the current climate where much needed and long awaited conversations about the need for increased diversity in the entertainment industry are finally happening this casting feels additionally insensitive. This isn’t color blind casting. It’s completely conscious – and in my opinion – clueless.
We touch on the controversy in the latest episode of my pocast. Feel free to click below to hear the discussion. Within the episode I also recommend a take on the Jackson, Taylor, Brando road trip that is respectful, moving and yes – even humorous.