What Do We Need Out of a Michael Jackson Biopic?

A new movie about the singer's life is in the works, but will it address his alleged history of abuse?

Michael Jackson performs in concert circa 1986. Lionsgate reportedly picked up the distribution rights to "Michael," an upcoming Jackson biopic.
Michael Jackson performs in concert circa 1986.

Music biopics have been big in recent years. From Jennifer Hudson’s turn as Aretha Franklin in Respect to Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, we’ve seen a slew of big-budget blockbusters dedicated to exploring the legacies of some of our most beloved artists. It makes sense to a certain degree, then, that someone would eventually try to make a Michael Jackson biopic — but given Jackson’s alleged history of sexual abuse, is it responsible to delve into the former King of Pop’s story on screen?

It sounds as though we’ll soon find out, for better or for worse. Deadline reports that Lionsgate has picked up the worldwide distribution rights to Michael, a biopic about Jackson that will be penned by three-time Oscar nominee John Logan and produced by Graham King. The pair previously collaborated on Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

According to Deadline, Michael is “set to be an in-depth portrayal of a complicated man who became the King of Pop. It will bring to life Jackson’s most iconic performances as it gives an informed insight into the entertainer’s artistic process and personal life.” There’s no word yet on who is slated to direct Michael, but it’s important to note that it’s being made with the blessing of the Jackson estate — meaning it’s highly unlikely that it will address the allegations that Jackson sexually abused multiple children in any sort of meaningful way.

“Ever since Michael was little, as a member of The Jackson 5, he loved the magic of cinema,” family matriarch Katherine Jackson said in a statement. “As a family, we are honored to have our life story come alive on the big screen.”

The news of this biopic comes just a week or so after Broadway’s MJ The Musical reportedly kicked a reporter out of its opening night for asking about the allegations against Jackson. That musical, which is also produced in conjunction with the Jackson estate, does not address the singer’s alleged abuse at all. It’d be shocking if the family suddenly changed its tune and decided to tackle his complicated legacy head-on. But that’s the only way a biopic about Michael Jackson has any hope of being worthwhile. Just as Bohemian Rhapsody was widely criticized for barely addressing Mercury’s sexuality, a Jackson biopic that shies away from his alleged misdeeds simply isn’t telling the entire story. (To be clear, that’s not at all meant to equate Mercury’s sexual orientation with the horrific crimes Jackson is accused of, but both are indelible parts of their respective histories.)

Regardless of whether or not you personally believe the accusations against Jackson, it’s impossible to pretend they never happened. You wouldn’t make a movie about Woody Allen in the year 2022 without at the very least addressing his daughter Dylan Farrow’s allegations against him, and you certainly wouldn’t make a Bill Cosby film without attempting to tackle the claims made by the more than 60 women who alleged he sexually assaulted or raped them. The same goes for any potential Jackson biopic that hopes to have any credibility. Of course, we don’t yet know what Michael has in store for us, and it’s possible that’s the kind of film we’ll get. Either way, at this point, it’s certainly the only kind of Jackson film that makes any sense.

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