It's hard to say which is stranger about the half-hour comedy "Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon": the story or the casting.
"Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon" will follow the supposedly real-life story of how Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando took a road trip to leave New York after the 9/11 attacks, reports Entertainment Weekly.
The one-off special, which will air as a half-hour comedy on Sky Arts, is based on a Vanity Fair article that claims Taylor, Jackson and Brando took a road trip out of New York after flights were canceled due to the 9/11 attacks. The celebrities reportedly got as far as Ohio, but a rep for Taylor claimed that the actress stayed in New York.
Stockard Channing will play Elizabeth Taylor, Brian Cox will portray Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson will be played by ... Joseph Fiennes.
The announcement has already sparked controversy, with Twitter users crying foul over Fiennes' casting as the iconic black musician. Activist DeRay Mckesson wrote, "They seriously couldn't find a black actor to play Michael Jackson?"
They seriously couldn't find a black actor to play Michael Jackson?— deray mckesson (@deray) January 27, 2016
If Joseph Fiennes is going to play Michael Jackson, it's only fair that Gwyneth Paltrow should play Macaulay Culkin— Richard Lawson (@rilaws) January 27, 2016
Too crazy for words! #JosephFiennes playing Michael Jackson! What next? Tom Cruise playing Muhammad Ali? Uma Thurman playing Rosa Parks?— Duncan Whitehead (@DuncanWhitehead) January 27, 2016
I know it's hard to see black people as human, but Michael Jackson wasn't a fictional character. https://t.co/6WxgulWo3s— ToraShae (@BlackMajiik) January 27, 2016
It's possible that Jackson himself would have been unhappy with the choice. As reported by Vlad Duthiers of CBSN, in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, when Winfrey said, "There was a story about you wanting to have a little white boy play you in a Pepsi commercial," Jackson had a strong response.
"That is so stupid," he answered. "That's the most ridiculous, horrifying story I've ever heard. It's crazy. I mean, why? Number one, 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 proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride in who I am and dignity."
Sky Arts defended the casting choice, saying, "Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon is a Sky Arts comedy which takes a light-hearted look at a reportedly true event. Joseph Fiennes is cast as Michael Jackson. It is part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history. Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set."
The comedy is to air sometime this year, but no date is set.
The news comes at a particularly sensitive time, as the Academy has received a barrage of criticism for leaving out black actors from Oscar nods.
In October, films "Aloha" and "The Martian" were criticized for "whitewashing" Asian characters and casting white actors instead.