Before we begin, let us remind everyone that the Joseph Fiennes Fansite does not speak for Joseph Fiennes in any way. All opinions expressed in these editorials or on our social media accounts are those of the editor alone. Our opinions as a fan. A fan of Joe, a fan of drama, of photography, of art. And a burgeoning fan of humanity.
the importance of creative expression
Editorial #3 from the Joseph Fiennes Fansite
As the de facto presence for Joseph Fiennes on Twitter (a platform which for all its wonderful uses in this world does provide too many people with an easy and inappropriate outlet for daily outrage), we’ve had quite a week. We understand that Joseph Fiennes portraying Michael Jackson for Sky Arts’ Urban Myths series is controversial. We understand why. And not only do we understand, but we support everyone’s right to express their reaction to this portrayal. What we do not support is the belligerence, the bullying, the threats (and there have been several). That’s not expressing an opinion. Opinions are expressed with respect, with an acknowledgement that we all have the right to our own, but perhaps we disagree. And, yes, educated opinions are more valuable than those given without considering the facts of a situation. So let’s consider some facts and history…
Sometime in, we believe, 2015, Joseph Fiennes was approached by Sky Arts and offered the role of Michael Jackson in their short, one-episode Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon, a satirical piece created as part of the Urban Myths series which looks at the sillier side of many famous individuals including characters from Timothy Leary to Adolf Hitler. The director, Ben Palmer, has indicated that they approached Joe based on his skill as a nuanced character actor, not his appearance. Joe accepted and filmed the role, and it was after the project had wrapped that the controversy began…. People expressed displeasure over Joe, a white man, portraying Michael Jackson, a black man. (Though, to again consult facts, this occurrence is not all that infrequent—shall we consider the cast of the very popular musical Hamilton for instance?)
“I deal in imagination, so I don’t think imagination should have rules stamped on [it].” —Joe Fiennes
We truly are not writing this to extend an argument. To persuade those who disagree with us to change their minds. To offend anyone’s sensibilities. But after holding our tongue for days and days (really almost a year to be technical about it), we are moved to express our opinion about the nature and purpose of art. Sometimes it’s hard to remember these days, but TV shows, movies, dramatic performance, and storytelling, are art. They are creative expression nurtured by human imagination and shared with others. Not all of them are good. Not all of them are inspired and touching and beautiful. And that’s okay. Because the importance of art in our world is not in the quality of the finished product. The importance lies in the creating, the doing, the process of human expression. Can we all agree on humans’ rights to express themselves? We hope so.
So if art is about creative expression, and expression is a basic right for the human race, it follows that artistic creativity is something to be protected and cherished. It is inherently connected to the concept of freedom of speech, something that, in our own country (the US), is fiercely protected. So…in this important moment, we are going to fiercely protect the rights of artists. We believe artists have the right to express themselves without external limitations. We believe artists have the right to create in ways that question and challenge and provoke thought, discussion, and debate. We believe they have the right to shock, horrify, and offend us just as much as they have the right to welcome, bind, and soothe us. Throughout time, art has always been this way, had these effects. Golden ages of art and science fuel the progress of our human society. We would be nowhere, nowhere, as a society without them.
These opinions we have just shared with you, in an educated and peaceful way, are why we are so saddened by the news that Sky Arts will not be airing Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon in response to complaints by Michael Jackson’s fans and family. We understand that the portrayal may be offensive to some. But that’s okay. If art offends you, you express it, and you do not view it or spend money on that art. It’s that simple. But you cross a line if you declare that the art has no right to exist. And please believe that the number of comments and messages we have received this past week stating that this TV show had no right to be made is high. Very high. We have personally been offended by many pieces and kinds of art throughout the years. And that’s okay. We would never presume to question someone’s right to that creative expression. Sky Arts, who (with Joe’s full support) backed off the project presumably as an act of kindness, a demonstration of good intentions and the wish to leave ill feelings behind, in choosing not to air the controversial Urban Myths episode, essentially let the opinion of some people dictate the sharing of art. And that…that in our mind is a dangerous precedent to set. We do not believe that a person of one race portraying someone of another will set our society back. We believe that the oppression of creativity and personal expression will.
We hope someday, just maybe, this long-lost episode of Sky Arts’ Urban Myths will fulfill its creative destiny and be shared with the world. Joseph Fiennes, other wonderful actors like Stockard Channing, Brian Cox, Carrie Fisher, not to mention so many other hard working cast and crew expressed themselves creatively and made a piece of art. We don’t know if it’s good, we don’t know if it would make us laugh or smile or think. Maybe it would be terrible, maybe it wouldn’t. And that’s okay. But as it stands now, we’ll never know, because this expression of the dramatic arts has been silenced. And that is not okay.