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Matthew Gilbert

Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson: Colorblind, or just plain tone-deaf?

From left: Joseph Fiennes and Michael Jackson.
From left: Joseph Fiennes and Michael Jackson.(AP Photos)

The roiling issue of diversity in the mainstream film industry, triggered by a lack of black Oscar contenders, continues to dominate American entertainment news. And now headlines out of England remind us that the problem is entrenched internationally, too.

White actor Joseph Fiennes, best know as William Shakespeare in “Shakespeare in Love,” has been cast to play Michael Jackson in an upcoming made-for-TV movie in the U.K.

Tone deaf much?

In 2016, a white actor is going to play a black superstar, arguably the world’s most famous black entertainer? Jackson did radically alter his appearance over the years, ultimately looking somewhat Caucasian, but he was indeed African-American. Even when he was hacking away at his face with cosmetic surgery and changing the color of his skin, he was black. Would you cast a black woman to play Rachel Dolezal, who is white but identified herself as black?

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Called “Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon,” the comedy is based on an urban-legendy Vanity Fair story about how, unable to get a flight out of New York on 9/11, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and Jackson began a cross-country car trip. The other casting is right on: Stockard Channing is Taylor, and Brian Cox is Brando, who insists on stopping at KFCs and Burger Kings along the way.

But Fiennes as Michael? The Internet is perplexed. Jackson once sang, “If you’re thinking about my baby / It don’t matter if you’re black or white.” But when it comes to thinking about representation in film, yes, it does matter.

What do you think?

Here’s a sampling of some reaction on Twitter:


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.