Michael Jackson’s complicated and controversial life story has so much content that making a satisfying biopic about him is a big ask.
Michael Jackson was unlike anyone else. A singer with a distinctive vocal range, a dancer who set the stage on fire, and a versatile songwriter, the King of Pop has been relentlessly pursued by millions of fans throughout his solo career. Bigger and more controversial than anyone else, his personal life hasn’t been hidden from the public either.
Most believed, and not without reason, that ‘Wacko Jacko’ was somehow ‘strange’. The man had a pet python, which terrified Lionel Richie when he was in his house and co-wrote the charity track ‘We Are the World’. Reports claimed he slept in an oxygen chamber. He had undergone chin cleft surgery and two rhinoplasty surgeries, leading to speculation about his obsession with surgeries. What hit him hard were the sexual abuse allegations that fell out of the closet during his lifetime and even after his death.
Musically, he was a genius. Inspired by icons like Little Richard and Diana Ross, he, in turn, inspired many musicians, including Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz. A recent Jackson-inspired artist is Myles Frost, who has been praised for his portrayal of the megastar in MJ the musical, a jukebox musical that premiered on Broadway. Frost got the opportunity to play Michael after the show’s producers saw the YouTube video of his performance of “Billie Jean” on a high school show. He is now a Tony Award-winning theater star.
A biopic of Michael backed by the Jackson estate is in the works. It is co-produced by Graham King (The dead, Bohemian Rhapsody), Lionsgate acquired distribution rights, while John Logan (the aviator, Hugo) writes the screenplay.
As Jackson fans eagerly await the end of the film, one question is whether or not it will explore the sensitive topic of sexual abuse allegations. Leaving Neverlanda 2019 documentary co-produced by Channel 4 and HBO, centered on two men who claimed they were sexually abused by Jackson. Michael Jackson: In pursuit of the truthanother 2019 documentary, defended the megastar against these allegations. Neverland Firsthand: Investigating the Michael Jackson Documentaryalso released in 2019, was aimed at people he said had been deliberately excluded from the HBO documentary.
Considering it’s backed by the Jackson estate, how will the biopic handle the subject? If he regards the megastar with compassion, which is likely, he will be criticized by those who believe that Jackson was like the title of one of his songs, a “Smooth Criminal”, until a teenager named Jordan Chandler and his father Evan became the first to accuse him of sexual abuse in 1993. If a sequence or two suggested he was at fault, his fans would launch a “Boycott Biopic” campaign on social media and shred the film. For the manufacturer, this is a no-win situation.
The sexual abuse allegations became the high point of the latter part of her career. A biopic must, however, cover Jackson’s story from the beginning, beginning with those days when he made his debut in 1964 as a backup performer in the Jackson Brothers, a band made up of him and his brothers. Jackson was five at the time. Getting the perfect kid for this role will be a casting triumph.
Jackson wasn’t even a teenager when he sang major hits, including the bubblegum pop track ‘ABC’ (1970). Other members of the band, which had been renamed The Jackson 5, provided musical support for the main draw. The youth’s face beamed with pure innocence. He had a sweet smile – and a missing tooth. He seemed oblivious to his talent as his childlike voice soared and charmed his listeners. Finding the right kid for the role won’t be easy either.
His fans would like to know more about his relationships, among which is his relationship with his disciplinary father Joe, a former crane operator. The description of her relationship with Jermaine, one of her older brothers, could lead to some revelations. This writer should mention that he found two of Jermaine’s solo efforts, dynamite and let me tickle your fancy, particularly friendly. Michael, however, was too good for his reasonably gifted but inconsistent older brother.
Janet, his sister, has become a superstar. Gifted with a beautiful voice and an equally good performer, she, despite her popularity, failed to emulate her brother’s success. Her relationship with Michael can be an interesting subplot.
Michael loved Diana Ross, and her singing style and technique inspired him. The film is to feature Ross, a significant presence in his life, who was once asked if Michael had undergone surgery to look like him. Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’ daughter and Michael’s first wife, cannot be left out simply because of her famous father. Michael had dated Madonna for some time before their affair ended. What happened?
Musically, Michael’s solo career produced tracks like “Got to Be There” and “Ben” (both from 1972) when he was just a teenager. In India, Michael became popular after On the wall, his 1979 release with classics like “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” and “Rock With You”, hit the market. 1982 sees the arrival of Thrillerbest-selling album of all time which won eight Grammy awards. Thriller, a pop masterpiece, had upbeat tracks like “Beat It” and “Billie Jean,” while the title track video was nothing short of outstanding.
Michael’s music had it all: soul, funk, rhythm and blues, rock and more. Wrong (1987), Dangerous (1991) and HIStory: past, present and future, Book I (1995) cemented his stature as the undisputed king of pop. None of them could match the sales figures of Thrillerwhich sold 50 million copies, 20 million more than AC/DC’s Back in blackthe second best-selling album of all time.
However, these three albums also achieved fantastic sales figures as the musical megastar explored themes such as love, poverty, racism, environmental awareness and suicide. Invincible (2001), his final studio album, featured his least impressive work. By then, Michael, the creator, had lost his touch.
A lot happened in his controversial life before Michael announced his latest set of concerts, That’s it, for a planned residency at the O2 Arena in London. He died on June 25, 2009, 18 days before the first show. The reason for his death was a drug overdose, his doctor Conrad Murray having prescribed him medication that would help him sleep. The musician, who started performing in his family band at the age of five, was 50 at the time of his death.
How will a biopic about Michael, the enigmatic subject of a million different stories, convince the viewer that nothing important is missing? If the project doesn’t get stuck in development hell, we’ll soon have the answer.
The author is a freelance writer and author. The opinions expressed are personal.
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