Lionsgate is about to be “startin’ something,” as the studio has tapped Antoine Fuqua to direct its Michael Jackson biopic, Michael, a project that will reportedly see the filmmaker reunite with his Emancipation Cinematographer Robert Richardson, who has won three Oscars for his work on JFK, The Aviator, and Hugo.
Three-time Oscar nominee John Logan wrote the script, and the film will be produced by Graham King of GK Films, who also produced Bohemian Rhapsody, which was a juggernaut of a music biopic. Logan and King previously teamed on The Aviator and Hugo, both of which were nominated for 11 Oscars, winning five. John Branca and John McClain, the co-executors of Jackson’s estate, will also produce Michael, which is expected to begin filming before the end of the year, as Fuqua is just now wrapping up The Equalizer 3 in Italy.
Deadline broke the news, reporting that Lionsgate has worldwide rights to the movie, though it is expected to partner with another studio on international distribution, with Sony a likely landing place given its handling of the 2009 documentary This Is It, which followed Jackson as he rehearsed for a series of concerts in London shortly before he died of a heart attack that likely occurred as a result of mixing numerous sedatives.
Of course, any Michael Jackson movie will have to contend with the singer’s legacy as an alleged pedophile and child molester — it’d be completely irresponsible not to — though it will hardly be the focus of the film, which is expected to be a celebration of Jackson’s life and musical accomplishments. Ultimately, that’s why the audience is going to see this film — to sing and dance in the aisles, and get a taste of Michael’s difficult upbringing and the pressure he faced as a child star. I can’t imagine that the co-executors of his estate would be involved in a movie that spent too much time on that, though the film may very well deal with that right up front in its opening scene. It wouldn’t be the worst strategy for Fuqua to employ — acknowledge it so it doesn’t loom like a dark cloud over the rest of the picture, then flashback to Michael’s childhood innocence and work your way back to those dark allegations from young men who slept over the singer’s Neverland Ranch when they were just boys.
It’ll be interesting to see whether this is the kind of role that every young Black actor in Hollywood jumps at, or whether they recoil from it, forcing Fuqua to perhaps cast an unknown. From a below-the-line perspective, it’ll also be interesting to see who handles makeup and prosthetic duties on this film, given Jackson’s appearance following plastic surgery that reshaped his nose and appeared to make his skin lighter. Of course, he also suffered terrible burns while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984 — an incident that introduced him to painkillers.
Suffice to say, Fuqua doesn’t plan to shy away from challenging subject matter, though his focus will be on honoring Michael’s memory and that of his timeless music. And you can safely expect some moonwalking in there as well. I imagine Fuqua will also have fun recreating some of Jackson’s music videos, such as “Thriller,” given his own background directing music videos for artists such as Prince, Toni Braxton, and Stevie Wonder.
Michael immediately becomes the single most-anticipated music biopic in the works, trumping Paramount’s Bee Gees movie from director Lorene Scafaria, and even James Mangold‘s Bob Dylan movie starring Timothée Chalamet.
And now, let’s hear from the director, the producer, and the studio:
“The first films of my career were music videos, and I still feel that combining film and music are a deep part of who I am,” Fuqua said in a statement. “For me, there is no artist with the power, the charisma, and the sheer musical genius of Michael Jackson. I was influenced to make music videos by watching his work — the first Black artist to play in heavy rotation on MTV. His music and those images are part of my worldview, and the chance to tell his story on the screen alongside his music was irresistible.”
“Antoine’s films provide personal perspectives of larger-than-life characters that continuously captivate global audiences. I’m confident that Antoine will make an exceptional and compelling film that will both celebrate and give profound new insights into the life of the King of Pop,” King added in a statement of his own.
“Antoine is a perceptive and powerful filmmaker, and we feel very fortunate that he has chosen Michael as his next project. His visionary storytelling skills and commitment to his craft will make Michael an unforgettable film,” said Joe Drake, Chair of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.
We’re not surprised to see Fuqua and Richardson working together again so soon after Emancipation, as in a recent interview with Below the Line, Richardson said the two of them had formed a brotherly bond on that set. Click here for that piece, and check out their work together on Apple TV+, where Emancipation is now streaming.