• Joseph Fiennes plays Michael Jackson in the made for TV film Urban Myths. (Sky Arts)Source: Sky Arts
Daughter Paris Jackson says the whitewashing is insulting and makes her want to 'vomit'.
Alyssa Braithwaite

12 Jan 2017 - 12:02 PM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2017 - 12:20 PM

Family, friends and fans of Michael Jackson have hit out at footage of Shakespeare in Love actor Joseph Fiennes playing the King of Pop in a new UK comedy series.

The first trailer for the UK Sky Arts made-for-TV film Urban Myths has been released online. 

The series looks at "remarkable stories from well-known historical, artistic and cultural figures, which may or may not have happened in real life", featuring Stockard Channing as Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Marsan as Bob Dylan, Brian Cox as Marlon Brando, Iwan Rheon as Adolf Hitler, and Fiennes as Jackson. 

The casting of Fiennes, who is white, was criticised when it was announced last January, but Fiennes defended himself to the Associated Press in 2016, saying the project did not promote stereotyping and was a "positive, lighthearted comedy".

He also told Entertainment Tonight that "[Jackson] was probably closer to my colour than his original colour" when the actual events took place.

But the new footage has prompted headlines such as "Sorry, Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson is something you can't unsee" and "Nightmarish first look at Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson draws horrified reaction".  

Leading the reaction online is Jackson's daughter Paris, who has called it offensive and disrespectful. 

A petition which was launched when the casting of Fiennes was announced, has now attracted more than 20,000 signatures.

"It's easy to see why the story would make a compelling film - but it's harder to understand why the actor best known for his role in Shakespeare in Love was the first choice to play one of the world's most iconic black musicians," wrote Julie Rodriguez, who started the petition.

"Despite a public struggle with vitiligo, a rare skin disorder that results in the loss of pigment, he identified in interviews as a proud black man, and went out of his way to fight for better treatment of black artists in the entertainment industry. In fact, in a 1993 interview with Oprah, he was offended at the very suggestion of being played by a white actor in a commercial! 

"It's bad enough when actors of color are denied opportunities to play fictional characters of their own ethnicity due to the preferential treatment of white actors. But 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."

Many people around the world have taken to social media to express the same sentiments.