Sky has decided to axe a controversial Michael Jackson episode from its upcoming Urban Myths series.
The programme, which begins on Sky Arts later this month, looks at “remarkable stories from well-known historical, artistic and cultural figures”, which may or may not have happened in real life.
The comedies feature a star-studded cast that includes Rupert Grint, David Threlfall, Iwan Rheon, Eddie Marsan (pictured above), Noel Clarke and Katherine Parkinson.
The tall tales include Bob Dylan (Eddie Marsan) and Dave Stewart hanging out in Crouch End; an 18-year-old Adolf Hitler (Iwan Rheon) attempting to get into art school; Cary Grant (Ben Chaplin) and Timothy Leary taking LSD; Salvador Dali summoning Alice Cooper to sit for him; Samuel Beckett driving Andre the Giant to school; Muhammad Ali (Noel Clarke) saving a suicidal man; and the Sex Pistols and the story behind the infamous expletive-filled TV interview that announced the arrival of punk rock.
The most controversial, though, is an episode that would have seen Joseph Fiennes play Michael Jackson – a piece of casting that sparked allegations of whitewashing against the programme makers.
Ben Palmer, who directed four episodes of the series, defended the decision to The Guardian this week: “We were casting Michael Jackson in 2001 and that obviously is a challenge in terms of the physical resemblance. 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.”
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how people react once they’ve actually seen it,” he added.
However, people won’t see it on Sky Arts this January, with the broadcaster announcing today that it has pulled the much-debated episode.
“We have taken the decision not to broadcast Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, a half hour episode from the Sky Arts Urban Myths series,” a spokesperson for the broadcaster said, “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.”
The two-part season, which Sky describes as “using a generous dose of artistic licence”, airs in January and April. It will begin with the Bob Dylan episode, airing on Thursday 19th January, with Samuel Beckett and Andre the Giant following on Thursday 26th January.