Just days after releasing an Urban Myths trailer that included glimpses of the episode featuring Joseph Fiennes as a very pale Michael Jackson, the British cable channel Sky has announced it won’t air the episode after all.
The decision was made in response to outcry from Jackson’s family. After the trailer appeared online on Wednesday, Jackson’s daughter, Paris, wrote on Twitter of the casting of Fiennes, “I’m so incredibly offended by it, as i’m sure plenty of people are as well, and it honestly makes me want to vomit.”
A Michael Jackson podcast called “The MJCast” helped fan the flames of fan anger online, encouraging viewers to boycott Sky and to contact the director of the channel’s arts division.
Eventually, Sky relented; on Friday morning, via the Sky Arts Twitter account, the channel announced it had decided not to broadcast the episode, titled “Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon.” “This decision was taken in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson’s immediate family,” the statement continued. “We set out to take a light-hearted look at reportedly true events & never intended to cause any offence. Joseph Fiennes fully supports our decision.”
The episode depicted a supposed car trip that Jackson took with Marlon Brando (Brian Cox) and Elizabeth Taylor (Stockard Channing) after the 9/11 attacks, a story reported in Vanity Fair in 2011 that has never been confirmed. The episode’s director, Ben Palmer, defended the casting of Fiennes, telling the Guardian, “We were really looking for the performance that could unlock the spirit, and we really think Joe Fiennes has done that. He’s given a really sweet, nuanced, characterful performance.”
The other, less controversial episodes in the series will still go to air — y’know, like the one starring Game of Thrones‘ Iwan Rheon as a bumbling young artist named Adolf Hitler.