Joseph Fiennes, brooding star of your most fervid Y2K fantasies, is set to appear in Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, a 20-minute comedy that has already received a fair amount of critical press for casting Fiennes, a white British man, as Michael Jackson. Yes, what could go wrong?

For context, Fiennes is also set to appear in Risen, an awful-looking biblical epic about how bad the Romans were at believing in Jesus Christ, or something; Joseph Fiennes, long past his Shakespeare in Love heyday, is at this point probably just taking whatever roles he can get. The explanation he gave The Hollywood Reporter, however, is... really something, adding to the ever-expanding list of white actors and directors who seem utterly incapable of speaking intelligently or even competently on matters of racial bias in the film industry:

Regarding critical reception, you’re also playing Michael Jackson in another project. What have you thought of the reaction to that news?

Firstly, let me preface this conversation — and it’s an important conversation I want to go into in-depth because it demands that — that I shot this last autumn, and the Internet had the information at the end of last year, for a long time. It was only in doing a little publicity that it got caught up in the whole Oscar conversation — which is a good conversation, but I think it’s a different conversation, but in the same discussion.

Ah. Yes, yes. Words, bring unto me your power to confuse mine enemies, and deflect difficult questions about #OscarsSoWhite!

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Fiennes goes on to imply that because he’s playing Michael Jackson in his later years, when he no longer scanned as black, it makes sense for a white man to play him—why not just go ahead and completely erase any concept of blackness or race from the life and legacy of Michael Jackson?

The director has done many comedies, and it’s less about Michael; it’s almost about the three of these amazing, iconic characters and what it’s like to have that disconnect at that kind of echelon of fame. It’s sweet and actually very poignant and moving, but I got to tell you, it’s not a biopic, and it’s not Michael in his younger days. It’s Michael in his last days when, I have to say, he did look quite frankly rather differently than when we grew up with him in the ‘80s or earlier. So it’s as Michael as we last remembered him and how he looks. The decision with the casting and the producers — I wrangled with it, I was confused and shocked at what might come my way, and I knew the sensitivity, especially to Michael’s fans and to Michael’s family. It doesn’t negate who he was.

He then goes on to compare critics giving expressing disapproval for his casting as Michael Jackson to critics refusing to see a black woman play Marilyn Monroe:

I remember seeing in the National Theatre when I started, a brilliant actress, the best of our generation, played Marilyn Monroe. I was working in the wings so I got to watch all the performances, and she was mesmerizing. It was an Arthur Miller play called After the Fall. She for me was Marilyn, without question, but because she was black, I was shocked to hear that two critics refused to come and see it because they didn’t have the imagination, and that was twenty, twenty-five years ago.

Towards the end of the interview, Fiennes said some jumbled words about the importance of “colorblind casting,” adding:

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The thing is, the playing field is not fair right now, and that’s absolutely evident. This is quite right, why people are up in arms. I’m a full believer in making the playing field fair. When it is fair, we can have a conversation about this project and it wouldn’t cause outrage.

Just spitballing here, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that if and when that conversation happens, Joseph Fiennes will be allowed nowhere near it.


Contact the author at ellie@jezebel.com.

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Image via Getty.