Urban Myths – the forthcoming series of one off comedy plays from Happy Tramp featuring numerous TVO talents – will be one episode shorter after controversy over a casting decision has forced Sky Arts to pull one story from the run prior to broadcast.
Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon is written by Neil Forsyth (Bob Servant Independent) and directed by TVO regular Ben Palmer, and focuses on a car journey between Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando as they flee New York after the 9/11 attacks.
The episode featured Stockard Channing as Taylor, Brian Cox as Brando and a cameo from the late Carrie Fisher (in one of her final roles) as a diner waitress, but it was the decision to cast white actor Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, under heavy prosthetic make-up that sparked controversy.
Whilst the series has been set out as ‘slightly tongue-in-cheek, mischievous and deliberately ambiguous’, the joke was lost on the singer’s family. His daughter Paris Jackson was particularly vocal about her complaints, and this prompted a petition to boycott the episode which reached 20,000 signatures, mostly objecting to the decision to cast Fiennes instead of a black actor.
This morning, Sky bowed to pressure and issued the following statement.
“We have taken the decision not to broadcast Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, a half-hour episode from the Sky Arts Urban Myths series, in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson’s immediate family.
“We set out to take a light-hearted look at reportedly true events and never intended to cause any offence. Joseph Fiennes fully supports our decision.”
Four episodes from the series, including an edition entitled Bob Dylan starring Katherine Parkinson and Eddie Marsan, will air later this month, with the remaining three following later in the year.