Michael Jackson’s estate is producing biopic directed by Antoine Fuqua

Michael Jackson’s estate is producing biopic directed by Antoine Fuqua

The ubiquitous music biopic is not losing steam any time soon.

From last year’s Elvis and the Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody, to the upcoming Leonard Bernstein (Maestro) and Amy Winehouse (Back To Black) movies, the appetite for this subgenre has a sizeable box office and awards draw.

And it was only a matter of time before studios got their hands on Michael Jackson’s life.

According to an exclusive report from Deadline, Training Day and Emancipation director Antoine Fuqua is set to direct Michael, a Lionsgate drama telling the complex life story of the iconic singer Michael Jackson.

The film will be scripted by John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall) and will be co-produced by the Michael Jackson estate and Graham King, who turned the Freddie Mercury Queen story into the Oscar Best Picture-nominated Bohemian Rhapsody.

“Antoine is a perceptive and powerful filmmaker, and we feel very fortunate that he has chosen Michael as his next project. His visionary storytelling skills and commitment to his craft will make Michael an unforgettable film,” said Joe Drake, chair of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.

Rusty Kennedy/AP
Michael Jackson live - Rusty Kennedy/AP

Dealing with child sex abuse allegations

According to the report, the film will “undoubtedly make the most of Jackson’s musical accomplishments and re-creation of seminal career highlights beginning with the days he fronted The Jackson 5 as a child to his hitmaking work as the biggest musical star in the world as an adult.”

But what about the tone and themes of the film?

Will it be a whitewashed “Wasn’t he iconic?” version that has seen so many biopics fail when it comes to truly tackling the complexities of a life? Or the portrait of a man who has suffered and also made others suffer, having been accused of paedophilia up to his death in 2009 at the age of 50?

Sources tell Deadline that Michael will “deal squarely” with the pedophile accusations, and Lionsgate has said the upcoming biopic will "address all aspects of Jackson's life.”

Considering that it is co-produced by the Jackson estate, there are doubts regarding how or if the film will truly address allegations of child sex abuse that were most recently publicly detailed in the 2019 documentary film Leaving Neverland.

AP Photo
Michael Jackson supporters hand out pamphlets in support of singer outside of the premiere of "Leaving Neverland" at Sundance - 2019 - AP Photo

Who will play Michael Jackson?

No casting decision regarding who will portray Jackson has been announced as of this time, and considering his story has never been told on the big screen, whoever lands the role will be under some heavy scrutiny.

Only a select few have immortalised him on the small screen.

Wylie Draper played Jackson in 1992 in the TV miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream, which followed the younger Jacksons as they became the Jackson 5. The show starred three actors – Alex Burrall, Jason Weaver and Wylie Draper – as Michael at different ages, with Draper portraying a grown-up Michael. It was watched by 38 million people at the time.

The young Draper was tragically diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia just months after the show aired and passed away in December 1993 at the age of 24. His family established The Wylie Draper Foundation in celebration of his life, a foundation which raises awareness for bone-marrow donation and supports young artists through an annual memorial scholarship in Wylie's memory.

Motown Productions
Wylie Draper in The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992) - Motown Productions

Another actor played Jackson 12 years later in the 2004 TV movie Man In the Mirror: Flex Alexander. Many criticized him for his inability to emulate the singer’s mannerisms and this spiritual follow-up to The Jacksons: An American Dream was widely slated by fans.

VH1 Television
Flex Alexander in Man In the Mirror - VH1 Television

And then there’s the infamous turn by Joseph Fiennes, who tackled the role in an Urban Myths episode in 2017.

Sky Arts
Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in 2017 Urban Myths episode - Sky Arts

Titled Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon, the TV biopic told the tale of Elizabeth Taylor (played by Stockard Channing), Michael Jackson, and Marlon Brando (played by Brian Cox) and how their lives intertwined.

Fans were up in arms over the decision to cast Fiennes as Jackson, and a petition urged fans to boycott the TV film.

"It's absolutely inexcusable for a film to whitewash a movie based on an actual human being, whether his appearance was typical of what we expect a black man to look like or not," read the petition.

Paris Jackson, the second child and only daughter of Michael Jackson and Debbie Rowe, shared on Twitter that she was “incredibly offended by (Fiennes’ portrayal of her father), as I'm sure plenty of people are as well, and it honestly makes me want to vomit.”

The episode was pulled from the air, with Sky Arts stating: “We set out to take a light-hearted look at reportedly true events & never intended to cause any offence.”

High hopes for a future cinematic juggernaut

Fuqua is currently finishing The Equalizer 3 with Denzel Washington, and production on Michael will begin later this year.

Fuqua previously directed videos with Prince, Toni Braxton and Stevie Wonder before his film breakthrough on Training Day.

“The first films of my career were music videos, and I still feel that combining film and music are a deep part of who I am,” said Fuqua.

“For me, there is no artist with the power, the charisma, and the sheer musical genius of Michael Jackson. I was influenced to make music videos by watching his work – the first Black artist to play in heavy rotation on MTV. His music and those images are part of my worldview, and the chance to tell his story on the screen alongside his music was irresistible.”

As noted by Deadline, the hope is that Michael will be a global juggernaut like Bohemian Rhapsody, which grossed over $900 million worldwide.

Michael will also represent a lucrative opportunity for various tie-in merchandise and soundtracks, and is bound to appeal to a pre-established audience who are already fans, as well as create a new appetite for the music of the controversial “King of Pop”.