You may recall last year’s controversy when Shakespeare in Love’s Joseph Fiennes was cast to play Michael Jackson in the upcoming Sky Arts anthology comedy series Urban Myths.

The British-produced series’ first trailer was released yesterday and depicts some very notable faces such as Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali and Hitler. The episode involving Jackson follows a rumoured road trip the pop singer once took across America along with Hollywood stars Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando after the 9/11 attacks.

However Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris Jackson, said the ‘shameful’ portrayal of her father by a white actor made her ‘want to vomit’. Jackson's nephew, Taj Jackson, also tweeted: ‘Unfortunately this is what my family has to deal with. No words could express the blatant disrespect.’

Yet producers of the series have vehemently denied all accusations of white-washing. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘white-washing’, it is ‘the casting practice in the film industry in the United States in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles.’  

Director Ben Palmer said: '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.'

Joseph Fiennes, who ended up resembling Johnny Depp’s long-lost brother instead of the King of Pop, told The Hollywood Reporter: 'The decision with the casting and the producers — I wrangled with it, I was confused and shocked at what might come my way. And I knew the sensitivity, especially to Michael's fans and to Michael's family. It doesn't negate who he was.'

However Fiennes maintained that: 'He was closer to my colour than his original colour.'

There’s no argument there as Michael Jackson did not look like your average African American due to his vitiligo which led to his skin colour change. But he was still a proud black man and wanted to be remembered as such. Surely a black actor would’ve been more suitable and would even require just as much cosmetic trickery and prosthetics to play the iconic popstar?

Even though Fiennes was thought to be the best actor to portray Jackson’s character and spirit, Jackson himself objected to being played by a non-black actor.

In a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson told her that he did not want a white child to portray him in a Pepsi commercial.

He famously said: 'Why would I want a white child to play me? I'm a black American, I am proud to be a black American, I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride and dignity. That's like you wanting an oriental person to play you as a child. Does that make sense?'

The debate of the film industry's white-washing is nothing new. It’s as old as the industry itself. While Urban Myths is merely a ‘light-hearted’ comedy made in good taste, 2016 has seen multiple cases of ‘white-washing’ such as in The Great Wall, Ghost in the shell and God of Egypt.

As journalist Stephanie Phillips writes: ‘What does it take for an actor of colour to play these roles that keep being given to white actors? Our stories are obviously exciting enough to make it on screen, our culture makes a great backdrop for a movie or maybe our music is the perfect soundtrack to go with each scene. If you've got that far then you've really got to get fully on board and love us as well, not just what we create for you.’

A more pressing issue from last year was when Scarlett Johansson was cast as Motoko Kusanagi in the forthcoming adaptation of Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell. Screenwriter Max Landis took to Youtube and uploaded a video titled ‘If You’re Mad About Ghost In the Shell You Don’t Know How The Movie Industry Works’ as to why this was the case. The American Ultra writer explains the casting process in films and justifies why Johansson was the only option to get the movie greenlit. He said: ‘There are no A-list female Asian celebrities right now on an international level. There used to be, in the 90s, diversity in our A-list actors. Jackie Chan and Jet Li were famous at the same time, they could both get movies made. We don’t have that guy anymore, we don’t even have Lucy Liu anymore.’

But this is where the problem lies. How will there possibly be any A-list Asian celebrities if they’re not given roles that are basically made for them? Celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave, Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionnaire, Gabourey Sidibe in Precious, and Rinko Kikuchi in Pacific Rim are all minority actresses who have become huge names from their breakout roles.

Also according to Landis’ logic, should Jon Favreau and Ang Lee have cast more bankable white lead actors for The Jungle Book and Life of Pi in order to guarantee box office success? Obviously not. Landis’ explanation is also proven wrong by the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which starred two relatively unknown British actors, one of whom is black, broke the all-time US box office record.

Novelist Kevin Kwan writes: 'Why does Hollywood think we always want to see the same 5 people up on the big screen? Hollywood is still not catching on to what their audience wants. People want originality and to be transported to new worlds and new adventures.'

Perhaps box office failure for Pan, The Lone Ranger and Aloha, all of which were accused of white-washing, should have taught Hollywood executives a lesson.

So why does the common misconception that ethnic minorities aren’t marketable persist? It's because they aren’t given enough chances to prove themselves, and when they are, the role is ultimately given to a white actor in order to make a more profitable movie. Everyone starts small, white or not. Scarlett Johansson started off with small roles before starring in Manny & Low and The Horse Whisperer which kicked off her career. Unfortunately many people of colour don’t get those opportunities.

While 'white-washing' issues nowadays aren’t nearly as offensive as Mickey Rooney’s racist performance as I.Y Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the casting of a white person robs and limits the opportunities for actors of colour by implying that white celebrities are more desirable within the industry. Fortunately, in some cases, Hollywood is actually learning something as Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan will feature an all-Asian cast. 

A hurtful portrayal of minorities in the film industry