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Joseph Fiennes defends casting as Michael Jackson in show

Seeing double? Joseph Fiennes and Michael Jackson

Actor Joseph Fiennes has defended himself against claims of 'whitewashing' after he was cast to play Michael Jackson in an upcoming TV show.

The selection of a white actor to play the black superstar in the half hour show 'Elizabeth, Michael And Marlon' has provoked a storm of criticism in some quarters.

However, Fiennes argued that the choice was appropriate as he was playing Jackson later in life, by which point his skin colour had considerably lightened.

Jackson said the change was due to a pigmentation issue, while others have claimed that he artificially lightened his skin in an attempt to look more white.

He definitely had an issue a pigmentation issue....so he was probably closer to my colour than his original colour.

– Joseph Fiennes

Fiennes joked that he was among those surprised at the casting, in comments to the US channel Entertainment Tonight.

"I'm a white middle-class guy from London and, I mean, I'm shocked as you might be," he said.

He insisted that the Sky Arts film was intended to be "light comedy" and "not in any way malicious".

The show is described as a comedy and follows a road trip that Jackson supposedly took with Hollywood superstars Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.

It has reignited controversy over roles and recognition for ethnic minority actors after the failure to include any BME nominees for any of the main categories in this year's Oscars awards.