Michael Jackson, #OscarsSoWhite, and Hollywood Representation

by Carlene Ervin

Last week I was a competitor in the “Don’t-be-triggered-by-disturbing-Facebook-content-Olympics” when I stumbled upon a particularly perplexing article. Let’s just say I came in last for my event.

A white man’s picture is next to Michael Jackson. On first glance I think, “Is this going to be some bullshit ass article about the type of white person Michael was trying to turn into?” Fortunately, my worst fears weren’t realized — something even worse happened instead. Joseph Fiennes, a white man, was cast to play Jackson in a British comedy.

My first thought:

satan       devil

On the heels of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the move to cast a white actor to play a Black man (no matter how much Jackson bleached his skin) seemed downright disrespectful. But they did slightly resembled each other. I was so conflicted. My Black-senses were tingling and telling me, “THIS IS SO WRONG” but whiteness was working in the background like,

question

So then I thought, “What would Michael, the king of skin bleaching, want?” I called in reinforcements in the form of my sister, a self-proclaimed guru of all things MJ. She hit me with that,

naw

I asked her who she would have play Michael to portray him at that stage in his life. She responded in a way that most people on Twitter did, “I don’t know who [I would choose] but what I do know, he was a Black man til he died. They could easily get a light African American male with his same features to play him.”

deray

Michael is no longer with us and can no longer speak for himself, but we do know Michael wasn’t here for a white child playing him. While we’ll never know MJ’s thoughts on this for sure, the idea to have Michael played by a white actor and the lack of diversity in Oscar nominations highlight that representation is a major issue in the entertainment industry. The lack of diversity is not the sickness, it is a symptom of a larger failing industry.

It is important to be able to turn on the TV or go to a movie theater and see people who look like you performing at a prominent level. However, the kinds of roles available to actors of color is just as import as seeing them represented. I’m tired of watching “Oscar worthy” movies with Black actors in subservient positions.

Black writers and directors should not be the only ones able to create powerful and dynamic roles for Black actors. It is not an impossible task. If Shonda Rhimes can create a character who is African American, over the age of 30, successful, well-respected, and complicated, so can the rest of Hollywood. I want future generations to be able to turn on the TV and not see whiteness as the default of American narratives.

So until Hollywood can figure it out, I am just going to sit here and look at this amazing gif of Blue Ivy Carter slaying us all with her beautiful “baby hair and afro.”

ivy