Sky Arts announced Friday that it will not air a controversial episode of Urban Myths featuring Joseph Fiennes as pop legend Michael Jackson.
“We have taken the decision not to broadcast Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon, a 30min episode from the Sky Arts Urban Myths series,” the network tweeted from its official account. “This decision was taken in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson’s immediate family. We set out to take a light-hearted look at reportedly true events & never intended to cause any offense. Joseph Fiennes fully supports our decision.” The episode was scheduled to air on Jan. 19.
Fiennes was cast in the role in January of last year and controversy over the decision to have the white actor play Jackson, who was African-American, soon followed. This week, the first footage of Fiennes playing Jackson was released to an increased uproar. In the wake of video’s debut, Jackson’s nephew Taj Jackson and Jackson’s daughter, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, slammed the Urban Myths episode as a “blatant disrespect” and “shameful portrayal.”
“Unfortunately this is what my family has to deal with. No words could express the blatant disrespect,” Taj wrote on Twitter.
“I’m so incredibly offended by it, as I’m sure plenty of people are as well, and it honestly makes me want to vomit,” Paris-Michael Katherine wrote. “It angers me to see how obviously intentional it was for them to be this insulting, not just towards my father, but my godmother [Elizabeth Taylor] as well. Where is the respect? They worked through blood sweat and tears for ages to create such profound and remarkable legacies. Shameful portrayal.”
Fiennes has not commented on the Jacksons’ remarks over the episode, but he did address the controversy last year. “This is territory that is sensitive,” Fiennes said to the AP in February of 2016. “One must determine if this portrayal is one that is going to be positive entertainment, and one that will not bring about division and put anyone’s noses out of joint, so I went with the mind that this was a positive light-hearted comedy.”
He added, “I deal in imagination, so I don’t think imagination should have rules stamped on them. If it promotes stereotyping, then it’s wrong. I made a distinction that the Jackson project doesn’t do that.”
Read the Sky Arts tweets below.
Following the news, Jackson’s nephew T.J. wrote on Twitter, “Thank you to everyone who made their voices heard. As I said it wasn’t comedy, it was mockery with no taste. A great victory for his legacy!”
Taj also weighed in, writing, “Thank you to the fans, you continue to fight for my Uncle Michael’s legacy. And thank you to the media, for covering the extreme backlash.”