In the flurry to capitalize on the untimely death of pop icon Michael Jackson, various Tinseltown producers are no doubt scrambling at this very minute to bring the story of his tragic life to the big screen. And why not? Certainly the remarkable story of the King of Pop would be the stuff of great cinema, right?
I’m not so sure. In fact, I doubt that we’ll ever see a definitive Michael Jackson biography on the big screen — at least nothing along the lines of epic, Oscar-collecting, studio-produced biographies like Ray and Walk the Line. There are at least five thorny issues any would-be Jackson biopic would have to contend with:
An Unprecedented Career
Famous practically from the cradle, Jackson spent nearly four decades in the public eye. Finding an actor capable of portraying the singer during his approximately thirty-year “adult” period — from the 1979 debut of his first solo album, Off the Wall, to his tragic passing last week — would be a herculean, if not impossible, feat. There’s no real precedent for a character like Jackson, a cultural icon who endured such a dramatic physical transformation during his long tenure in the spotlight.
Even if there were a performer capable of tackling such an immense challenge, who would be willing to take it on? The tricky issue of Jackson’s ever-lightening skin color, rife as it is with the potential to alienate and inflame, is alone bound to scare off most A-listers. A Caucasian actor like Johnny Depp might be a perfect choice to play for Jackson in his later years, but would the Pirates of the Caribbean star deign to go “blackface” for the Thriller era? Similarly, would an African-American like Will Smith be willing to do the opposite? Methinks neither would want any part of those pox-filled blankets.
A (Formerly) Walking Punchline
Never before has a public figure been so repeatedly and roundly satirized as Jackson — so much so, in fact, that it’s nearly impossible for many of us to separate the real person from the caricature. Such a dilemma might seem unpalatable to any filmmaker, even one as ballsy — and batsh-t crazy — as Oliver Stone.
Fact? Fiction? Who Knows?
The essential facts of Jackson’s life story are so elusive, and so fraught with rumor and hearsay, that they render a definitive biography nearly impossible. We’ll likely never know the true nature of Jackson’s alleged substance abuse, his relationship with child star Macaulay Culkin, his marriages to Lisa Marie Presley and Deborah Rowe or the skin condition responsible for his ghostly complexion. Then, of course, there’s that multi-million-dollar sum he paid in 1994 to settle sexual abuse charges. Which brings us to the final reason why we’ll likely never see a Michael Jackson biopic:
Michael the Friendly Child Molester
Skilled directors are adept at creating sympathetic portraits of even the most reprehensible of characters. Over the years, Hollywood has made us fall for killers, drug addicts, philanderers and other assorted miscreants. But when’s the last time you’ve seen a likeable pedophile prance around on the big screen? Ruthless gangsters like Michael Corleone and Tony Soprano can casually arrange the murders of dozens of people and still enjoy our enthusiastic embrace, but that affection would vanish instantly if either of them were even remotely suspected of diddling a little boy. Jackson may never have been officially convicted of sexual abuse, but the preponderance of circumstantial evidence against him can’t be ignored, and would have to be addressed by any respectable biopic. And not even Spielberg could make that look good.