Black or White? Network Defends Casting British Actor Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in Road Trip Comedy About 9/11

Fiennes will portray Jackson in a film based on an alleged road trip following 9/11

Photo: Getty (2)

This is casting news we certainly weren’t expecting to hear.

British actor Joseph Fiennes will portray Michael Jackson in an upcoming half hour special based on an alleged road trip following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.

The comedy, to be broadcast in the U.K. by Sky Arts, is based on a 2011 story in Vanity Fair, which revealed details of the expedition after all air travel to and from New York was grounded as a result of 9/11.

Although social media swiftly lit up following news that a white actor had been cast as Jackson, production company Sky Arts tells PEOPLE in a statement: “It is part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history. Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set.”

The King of Pop reportedly drove cross-country from New York along with friends Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando in an attempt to make it back to California.

Fiennes confirmed his role as Jackson while talking to ET Canada about the upcoming film.

“I have played Michael Jackson. That is true,” the said the 45-year-old actor.

“It’s a tongue-in-cheek fun light look at three wonderful characters that we know, Michael Jackson, Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando, and they go on a road trip together,” he explained. “They’re stuck in a car for 500 miles as they drive to Pennsylvania, and we get to hear some of the schtick that goes on.”

However, an assistant for Taylor told Vanity Fair that the actress wasn’t involved in the trip, and chose to stay in New York visiting Ground Zero and praying instead.

Despite the contradicting claims, the film will still include Taylor, played by Stockard Channing, and Brian Cox is slated to play Brando.

“Some say it’s an urban legend,” Fiennes explained to ET. “And our story says if it happened, maybe it happened like this.”

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