When most people meet me, they don’t often peg me as a Michael Jackson fan. I have a partially shaved head, I wear lots of weird Japanese street fashion clothes, and I pick combat boots over stilettos when given the choice. But, underneath all those funky colors and weird hair choices, I have essentially been a fan of the King of Pop since birth. His image was constantly in my face growing up, and never did I ever want to stop looking at it. Michael has been a constant inspiration and artistic hero in my life – which is why seeing recent news about another cinematic take on Michael has me very concerned.
Joseph Fiennes has been cast to play Michael Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon. It’s a TV movie about a “mostly” true story in which MJ, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando went on a road trip back to LA, departing from New York right after the 9/11 attacks. Fiennes co-stars in the film with Stockard Channing as Taylor and Brian Cox as Brando – who (shockingly) are pretty well cast in their roles.
Now, let me be frank. With the exceptions of Wylie Draper and Diego Luna, no other actor has ever properly captured Michael’s essence on screen. Draper gave a fantastic performance that truly captured MJ’s career from his Jackson 5 days to “Billie Jean” era flawlessly. Although Luna was not actually playing Michael but an impersonator, he gave that specific role what it needed: paying tribute without making a fool of the pop idol.
But with the casting of Fiennes, Hollywood continues down a long, ugly road of not understanding how to properly pay respect to the King of Pop on celluloid. The best (or worst, whichever way you want to think of it) case of this is Flex Alexander, who played Michael in the TV movie Man in the Mirror. Flex was too tall, too built, and had the acting chops of a 5 year old. If there ever was a “perfect” example (aside from Fiennes) of what not to do with a movie related to MJ, this would be it.
Now, as per the title of this article, I’m sure you are curious as to how anyone could effectively make a movie about Michael’s life properly. Personally, I don’t think it ever could be handled in the traditional bio-pic way, such as previous award winners Walk The Line and Ray had done. Instead, let’s look to a film that understands how to pay respect to someone without directly ruining anything about them: I’m Not There.
This movie portrays the many stories and incarnations of iconic artist Bob Dylan through short stories. Dylan is never directly mentioned in any of the stories, nor is anyone specifically playing him – just characters that pay tribute to aspects of his life. And the Dylan- inspired character features a different actor in each segment.
If there ever was a way to handle Jackson’s life on film, this would be it. And here’s a little guide on how to do it:
Jackson 5/Kid Michael Era
To start off this journey into Michael’s life, I believe it is best to cast an unknown in the role (or some of the kids from the Motown musical, since the casting team over there clearly knows what they’re doing.) It could take place during one of the many variety shows the Jackson’s were featured on in the ’70s – maybe even giving a glimpse into their mind set before they went onto Ed Sullivan, ending right before the performance. Cast Beyonce as Diana Ross (both of whom Michael was noted to have crushes on) and we’re good to go.
Off The Wall Era
For the next segment, it should feature when Michael was promoting Off The Wall. It could take place during one of the many commercials he shot to promote the album, particularly the ones he did in Japan for Suzuki. Someone that could embody this moment in Jackson’s life would be Elijah Kelly, who just recently played The Scarecrow in NBC’s The Wiz LIVE, which was a role Michael played around that time of his life. He doesn’t even have to be referred to as “Michael”, but just someone that is going through the motions of what MJ was processing during that album.
There’s a lot of ways to go about this very important part of Michael’s life, but whenever I think of Thriller as a part of history, I think of the iconic music video of the same name. This part could actually be represented not through a “Michael” inspired character, but rather someone viewing his success with the album from the outside. It could be interesting to have someone play Ola Ray – the girl who famously co-starred with Michael in the video. Keke Palmer would be really interesting in that role, and definitely has the same spark Ola did. You could also have someone play John Landis (by his son, Max, maybe), the director of the music video, and discuss the struggle it took to make that short film.
Like Thriller, there is a lot to choose from in this era. The most iconic video to come from that album, in my mind, is “Smooth Criminal” (Moonwalker version, not the actual music video). In this segment, it could feature the character of Annie, a girl who could embody aspects of Michael’s character within the video, while also portraying the person spoken about in the song. I have this deep dream of wanting Janelle Monae to be involved in this section, since I think she could pull the part like no other. She’d be the equivalent to Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, which knowing Janelle’s androgyny magic, could totally work.
This is, like Bad, a part of Michael’s life that you could sort of go in many directions. But as this is my favorite album from his catalog, I have a feeling that this segment could be focused on MJ’s further fusion of the rock genre within his more pop style songs – that’s where the inclusion of Jennifer Batten comes in. She was Michael’s guitarist for many years, and was a very obvious example of his rock influences coming through in his performances. I could totally see Natalie Dormer or even Jessica Chastain play Jennifer to a T, since they are all strong, powerful women. They could show her getting ready for the Dangerous tour, and prepping to play with Michael again, going over his music from the album, maybe even some of their personal connections.
Obviously, these segments don’t even completely tell the entire MJ story, as Dangerous only brings us up to the early 1990s. But with some tweaking and the right creative team, I feel they could tell Michael’s story as an artist and icon much better than previous films. He was an artist, like David Bowie, Madonna, Whitney Houston and many others, that deserves to be represented in a respectful and creative manner on screen. Michael left a legacy in music, film and almost every art form he touched – and there needs to be a movie that encompasses that in a unique way.
So, what do you think a movie about Michael Jackson should be like? Do you like the idea of a movie with multiple short stories told? Or would you rather it be a traditional bio pic like Ray or Walk The Line? What is your favorite Michael Jackson music video or song? What do you think of Joseph Fiennes being cast as him? Comment below with your thoughts and ideas!