The news announcement from The Guardian that Joseph Fiennes would play Michael Jackson was perhaps one of the most bizarre casting announcements I’ve heard in quite some time. Combined reactions of utter confusion, shock, and intrigue washed over with me all at once as I wondered to myself if this was white people’s way of taking the #OscarsSoWhite controversy literally to themselves. After a few moments, I found myself wondering if the casting of Fiennes playing Jackson in his latter years could ACTUALLY make sense because Jackson did have a very pale skin and thus it would make more sense to do that than trying to find the right black actor who passes for white and/or applying realistic white makeup to look like the character.
Unless the makeup applied for the Wayan Brothers in White Chicks can actually be considered acceptable, the search to find the best actor for the job is the highest principal I believe in highly and ideally, it should not be restricted by race, gender, or sexuality. However, even when I say that, I am and always will be a fierce advocate for non-white characters to be played by actors who share the same ethnic background .
So here we are again in this rodeo, this time with a white man playing Michael Jackson and earlier this week, Charlie Hunnam being cast as Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a Mexican American drug lord.
And once again, I find myself in a bizarre position where I am not ENTIRELY offended by such casting as these actors are not black/brownfacing for the role. In the case of Hunnam, he actually looks like the real-life counterpart and played a similar role in his TV series Sons of Anarchy so it will provide comfort to the studio execs that the job can be done. And with Fiennes, the actor’s eccentricity could provide a great fit for Jackson in his later years. Like any work of art, I’ll have to see when these come out and judge for myself if the actors did a convincing job inhabiting their characters. Being in the entertainment industry for the past 5 years, I am well aware that the act of casting is a complicated mess of finding the right talent/look/voice/essence, convenience, star power/Twitter followers, accessibility with the targeted audience, established relations, and like 50 other factors.
But at the same time, I have a similar feeling with this as I do when I try to drink gluten-free beer: it COULD work but it just doesn’t taste right whatsoever.