The reason people are talking about Joseph Fiennes has to do with Michael Jackson.
Fiennes, known for his performance in Shakespeare in Love, is going to play Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, a road trip movie about Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando fleeing New York City after the 9/11 attacks. Yes, that is one strange combination of words.
But even once you get past the movie's ridiculous-sounding premise (it's based off a Vanity Fair story turned urban legend), the decision to cast Fiennes, a white man, as Jackson, a black man, is puzzling. The reasoning, as Fiennes explained to Entertainment Tonight, is that Jackson's skin color was close to his.
"He was probably closer to my color than his original color," he said.
While Fiennes is correct about the shade of Jackson's skin color, his comments don't reflect that he fully understands the concern that surrounds whitewashing Jackson's story. While Jackson had pale skin, he lived with a skin disorder called vitiligo, which causes skin to lose its pigmentation.
Jackson's pale skin, and the procedures he underwent to mask it, led to the incorrect — but popular — idea that Jackson wanted to be or saw himself as white.
In a 1993 interview with Oprah, Jackson was confronted with that notion. As you can hear for yourself in the video above (starting around the four-minute mark), Oprah asked him if he wanted a white child to play him in a commercial, and Jackson was angry with the idea.
"It’s my face as a child in the commercial," Jackson told her, explaining that he was a black man and saw himself as one. He said he didn't want his story to be whitewashed.
"Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a black American. I’m proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race," Jackson added. "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? Please, people, stop believing these horrifying stories."
Unfortunately, that message was not clear to whomever cast Fiennes.