Auteur et éditeur, MA de littérature anglaise
This article examines the interpretation and transitional meaning of the performance of Michael Jackson’s high-status blackness. Where it interrogates and intersects is in the commonly held belief of the primacy and originality of Africa for African-American artists, notably for Michael Jackson. As such it focuses primarily on high-status portrayals of this African-American on the stage and through visual albums: Bad (1987) and Dangerous: The Short Films (1991). The article draws connections between these depictions and the way race and gender are read. It then goes on to briefly compare to and examine the work of Beyonce Knowles-Carter in terms of Jackson’s legacy on recording artists. Finally, this article draws conclusions on the meaning of high-status black representation, how it functions and how it is connected to early modern portrayals and depictions, along with notions of race and ethnicity.
Keywords: Race, Gender, African-American, Culture, Performance
It is the dominant reading of race that is enforced by the study of Michael Jackson’s perceived racial unreadability, as explored by Sherrow O. Pinder in Michael Jackson and the Quandary of Black Identity. What follows here will be a focused, detailed, and independent study in the Cultural Materialist methodology, employing the artist’s works as cultural artefacts. This essay analyses the high-status black in terms of Michael Jackson and performance. Cultural Materialism takes the pieces of art as evidential of culture. The conclusions drawn tell us about the culture of the time and this research uses close reading to take the amorphous spectacle and spectatorship and make them concrete through analysis. The cultural artefacts are the short films and live performances, and the Cultural Materialist theoretical framework is adapted through close reading of these.
This article employs a range of cultural artefacts, which are three of the short films from the Bad album of 1987; three of the Dangerous album’s short films from 1991; and accompanying live performances at Wembley Stadium in London (1988) and Bucharest (1992). The reason why these pieces were chosen is because they exemplify the disruptive nature of Jackson’s high-status representation in short film and on stage. The short films that this article focuses on specifically are: Bad, Smooth Criminal, Leave Me Alone, Black or White, Who is It? and Remember the Time. In all these short films Jackson is the protagonist and the dramatic action, as it does on the stage, revolves around him. The subject of early modern literature is alluded to and so is its cross-pollination with more modern themes such as race and ethnicity, gender, and codification, which are of great interest because of the powerful and positive intersect between these themes. As Margo Jefferson writes: “On stage and on screen, his [Michael Jackson’s] art – the incantatory songs and dances, the image-drenched, allusion-packed films… performances were densely layered self-portraits that took from multiple traditions and styles: gothic, expressionistic, noir, Victorian and futuristic, utopian and dystopian”. In addition to exploring genre, this article also researches the ways in which modern perceptions or dominant readings often seem to have their roots in the early modern period. The inheritance of which includes how Michael Jackson and subsequently, modern artists like Beyoncé Knowles-Carter have encoded their work to portray themselves publicly as regal. This article addresses the aspects of high-status blackness which are found in Jackson’s live performances and visual albums, but also the ways in which high-status blackness is read, and how these readings are leaving a blueprint for a long-lasting legacy.
The interrogations of this article require an answer to the question: What is high-status? The Oxford English Dictionary Online defines “high” as an adjective which denotes “ranking above other people or things in class, status or quantity, and related senses”. The way of using the words and concept in this article is “of a person or his or her attributes: of exalted rank, status, dignity or estimation”. Also, “of a person’s reputation or position in society: exalted, favoured, highly esteemed”. The word “status” denotes “social or professional rank, position or standing; a person’s relative importance”. Secondly, is the question: what is blackness? The OED Online defines it under the concept of ‘race’, a term that suffers from ambiguity, from “ethnic groups of common descent” to “a distinct ethnic set”. The meaning of the word “race” would accrue a variety of negative connotations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the rise of the transatlantic slave trade. The adjective “black” and its accompanying word “blackness” is used to denote “a member of any dark-skinned group of people” who are “of sub-Saharan origin or descent”.
So, what does it mean to perform high-status blackness? One must ask whether the meaning is derived from a white person painted dark with makeup to appear black on stage, and if the way black people are read on stage is through an accrued whiteness or subservient to the concept of whiteness: “For Jackson, who had straddled the relegated worlds of whiteness and blackness his entire life, it seemed to be the only way to begin to pierce through the veil of evasions and illusions about race in America”. Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination explores the need for whites to “play” and “perform” blackness on stage and a more contemporary move towards the fact that only a black person can play black characters without being perceived as a racist portrayal or depiction.
Laura Mulvey’s “male gaze” corresponds with issues of spectacle and spectatorship. These aspects coincide with the politics of high-status blackness, noticeably from one of the earliest recorded uses of royal blackface, the royal court masque, The Masque of Blackness by Ben Jonson, performed during the reign of James I of England (James VI of Scotland). The spectacle and spectacular nature of the masque was a show of political power, and this is evident in Jackson’s stage performances.
Are the performances themselves (and the artist by proxy) made regal by performance? Or does Jackson’s inherent reality make his performances spectacles of political authority? As Pinder explores in her book, blackness needs to be explained in an ontological ocean of whiteness because of the normalisation of whiteness and the systematic othering of blackness. For the purposes of this essay the concept of blackness pertains to black people in general and anyone from the African diaspora which ranges throughout Africa to the West Indies to the Americas and Brazil.
Stemming from medieval times, this notion [that black people are synonymous with criminality and evil] is still endemic in Western tradition, as when the character Iago says of Othello, in Shakespeare’s eponymous play: ‘an old black ram has been tupping your white ewe’ (1.1.87-88)… However, these archetypes had very little to do with the real existence of black people in the medieval era, the 17th century, or today, and far more to do with negative perceptions of them by the slave owners in the Western world.
Another cultural inheritance of Michael Jackson is that of blackness on stage or blackness in performance, whether it be in court masque or staged drama. The high-status black, though encoded more positively than images or imaginings of black servitude is still problematic as explored in my academic thesis, “With All His Beauteous Race: High-Status Blacks in The Masque of Blackness and The Merchant of Venice”. The problems that arise are that the black body is subjected to a white gaze, akin to the “male gaze” which objectifies it and serves to focus on the labouring of the black body in an oriental, postcolonial and erotic sense. A critical survey of this objectification in the early modern period is provided in From Object to Subject: A Critical Survey on the Representation of Blackness in the Early Modern Period. We see Jackson attempting to prove himself regal by wearing military jackets and this is expanded on fully in “Liberace Has Gone to War”: Undressing Michael Jackson’s Fashion. White royalty is often dressed in military garb in order to express the political power of royalty and the pomp and ceremony of military might.
The concept of high-status blackness can also be seen in Shakespeare’s Othello as Othello is a high-status black character who may very well have originally been portrayed using blackface. Characters like Othello were as a result of, not a precursor to, miscegenation, both culturally and literally in daily life. There is evidence of blacks living, working and marrying in the period: “the evidence for the Black Tudor presence comes from a range of archival sources: parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials; other church and municipal records; tax returns; household accounts; legal records; wills and inventories; diaries and letters”. The presence of black people in Early Modern history and in England was discussed in detail in Miranda Kauffman’s essay and her book, Black Tudors: “the presence of Africans in Tudor England was common knowledge at the time, and it needs to become common knowledge again”. The reason why this period and this presence on stage is so important is the fact that this is the era which created and propagated modern notions of race through the early modern stage, “the Black Tudors were not only present, but played an active part in some of the best-known stories of the age”.
When it comes to reading the live performances, one must look at the dominant readings of race. Jackson would remark on the markers of his own race, “I don’t understand why the press is so interested in speculating about my appearance anyway. What does my face have to do with my music or my dancing?” In what was the stage and performance tradition we see the performance of race as theatre in what Harvey Young explores ‘blackface’. This contravention of what was originally “sent up” as minstrelsy becomes what Harriet J. Manning terms the “blackface mask” as Jackson performs an act of racial performance and performativity while acting the character of the high-status black character: “In stark contrast to the more ‘refined’ and organized white dance traditions such as the hornpipe and jig that had hitherto prevailed in British and American theatres, minstrelsy’s dance was spontaneous, uninhibited and immensely physical”. Jackson was an Ariel of Shakespeare’s Tempest or in the words of Margo Jefferson, a shape-shifting Prospero. The racial unreadability is already inherent in Jackson as a child star from his earlier Motown days singing as a black character which was even made into a cartoon of himself and a caricature of blackness.
However, portrayals of high-status blacks are not limited to early modern tragedy and drama but can be found conceptually in contemporary comedy, such as the character of Prince Akeem in Coming to America and King Akeem in Coming 2 America. Eddie Murphy also stars as an ancient Egyptian king in Jackson’s Remember the Time which I write about extensively in ‘Recontextualizing Michael Jackson’s Blackness’. High-status black characters are often kings and princes, like the Prince of Morocco in the Merchant of Venice, these characters in early modern plays, are high-status individuals.
Lessons in disruption
In Bad, Jackson’s high-status is first seen in his social standing at the Duxston Academy, with his protagonist’s costume: a pristine white button-down shirt, which sharply contrasts the clothing of the antagonist played by Wesley Snipes. Snipes also starred in 2021s Coming to America as General Izzi. Jackson’s high-status is evident primarily through costume, framing and often through dance. With Bad, Jackson stars as a West Side Story-esque Tony character named Daryl, who leaves the tranquil diegesis of his boarding school to go to an impoverished town where a life of criminality awaits him. I discuss Bad in detail in ‘BAD(1987)’. In Bad to be “bad” is to be “good” because blackness is depicted as inherently bad and Jackson is depicted as good and god-like. Daryl descends into the subway to reclaim his high status and the short film goes from black and white to colour. What proceeds is the black and white opening segment is an almost technicolour dance sequence in an underground subway. An aggressive dance choreography showcases Jackson in a black and red costume covered in buckles and he emerges from the ceiling, in a superman-esque display of showmanship in which “the confrontational lyrics… offer a combination of social commentary and motivational guidance”. The short film, however, returns to black and white at the end.
In Smooth Criminal Jackson is the only member of the ensemble with a white suit, contrasted by his baby blue shirt, echoing Fred Astaire’s costume in 1953’s Band Wagon. Such dance moves which elevate his status are “the lean”, which defies gravity and the attention that focuses on him as he initially walks into the room. The attention of the chorus is pointed to him as he retrieves a coin from his pocket and tosses it into a jukebox which disrupts the environment of Club 30s. Elena Oliete would ask the following questions in ‘Michael, Are You OK? You’ve Been Hit by a Smooth Criminal’, “was Jackson betraying the African-American community? Or was he mocking those white groups in power who, with benevolent paternalism, look on the success of a black man calmly when he is considered as nothing but an exception, and yet become extremely nervous when racial boundaries begin to blur?” In terms of high-status blackness, Jackson disrupts the diegesis repeatedly. He disrupts the visual dynamic through, for example, wearing white, contrasting the grey and brown tones of the other dancers. When Jackson performs “the lean” his high status is derived from having superhuman qualities. The superman trope is one that Jackson regularly employs.
Jackson’s ethnicity needs to be dissected and excavated in order to be understood. Inside the concept of high-status blackness there are the four concepts of ethnicity, gender, codification and legacy. In ‘A Life and Afterlife of Shape-Shifting’, Margo Jefferson remarks: “In the decades between his first hit in 1969 and his death in 2009, he created and curated himself, first as a precocious boy singer, then as a daring solo artist, and finally as a cultural spectacle, surrounded – embedded even – in myth and contradiction”. The intersection of vitiligo plays a large part in discussions about Jackson’s high-status blackness. There is a much wider understanding of vitiligo with the rise to prominence of model Winnie Harlow. There are also more advanced conceptions of race and racial identities: “the increased public interest… can increase general awareness of little-known conditions… empowering and educating people who deal with these conditions”.
In Leave Me Alone Jackson is seen on money. Putting Jackson on the money depicts him as a being of great worth. He is also on the cover of newspapers before we see him retreat into an underground landscape of his own internal psychosis fever dream, made up of all the rumours that have been spread about him, including a shrine to Elizabeth Taylor. He traverses this internal landscape riding a spaceship with his pet monkey, Bubbles, and pet snake, Muscles. The contrast is found between Jackson’s emergence on the money and on the cover of tabloid papers, where his face is a form of currency or lingua franca. It is also a high-status representation because Jackson is the focus of the newspapers. This “award-winning short film for the song highlighted, he was ready to stand up, not be passively victimized by a money-driven, exploitative system”. The short film ends with a micro-Jackson in a spaceship and a macro-Jackson in a gigantic form that tears away aspects of a huge amusement park away from his body which has been pinning him down in the tradition of Gulliver’s Travels. His high-status blackness is once again embodied by his use of costume. His military jacket and his larger-than-life size add to his imposing grandness as he towers physically over the surrounding environment, dismantling the amusement park, wherein the entire short film has just taken place. Jackson is also symbolically larger which contributes to his high status. The disruption of the environment, as in Bad and Smooth Criminal is to do with Jackson creating and inhabiting a fantasy world and then destroying it.
Jackson repeatedly disrupts the entire environment in any cinematic or dramatic space he is introduced to, not just by his raucous and violent “panther dance” and “coda” but also through his physical self-expression. In Black or White Jackson is elevated in status through his use of monochrome costume, contrasting with the traditional garb of his fellow “ethnic” dancers at the beginning of the short film. Jackson morphs from a black panther into a man and at the end of his dance transforms back into a black panther. Celebrating diversity while simultaneously “boldly challenging that history of terror and intimidation,” Jackson remains “in conversation” with black culture. Joseph Vogel describes Jackson as “a cultural lightning rod” and that assertion holds true in all the representations of him that have been discussed so far in this article. The Panther Coda has been examined in detail by Vogel, Margo Jefferson, Harriet J. Manning and Susan Fast, “few viewers were prepared for the raw rage, pain, sexuality and violence on display in these final four minutes”.
Jackson is often powerful and subversive in the panther dance. For example, we see a tight shot of a car window in the frame and then Jackson’s arm appears and smashes the frame which commands attention. Jackson’s feet disturb mirror-like liquid glass puddles of low-key lit water. He disrupts his own dance by physically touching himself, erotically, on screen. The lukewarm reception to this in Vogel’s ‘Re-Screening Black Masculinity’ may have its roots in Dudley Carleton’s 1608 mislike of the court dressed in blackface and dancing suggestively, ‘the first drawing of the traverse was very fair and their apparel rich, but too light and courtesanlike. Their black faces and hands, which were painted and bare… was a very loathsome sight’. This dance sequence focuses all our attention on Jackson but not simply as a spectacle for his audience but as a source of something more. We, the viewer, become lower status compared to Jackson who is guiding us. By repeatedly attacking the screen and attacking the frames, be they shop windows or car windscreens, he is attacking us. He is also dominating the space between viewer and high-status black man.
We have talked about disruption; we have engaged with the concept of cinematography in terms of high-status blackness, but we have only scratched the surface. In the short film Who Is It? directed by David Fincher, Jackson is set up visually as the central character in a neo-noir landscape where he must solve a crime of love. Whereas noir “has easily recognisable and distinctive visual and thematic features, such as a striking use of silhouettes, low-key lighting, femme fatales, confessional voiceovers and dangerous urban landscapes”; neo-noir films appear “when there’s a significant downturn, political intrigue, war and espionage, noir-style and noir-themes show up time and again”. One of the most important things to remember is that the film language sets up Jackson as a high-status black character in a neo-noir narrative. When I refer to Jackson as a black character the use of both performance and mise en scene (film language) are both vital to us here. Who Is It? shapes Jackson as the protagonist of a neo-noir film and the narrative is all about Jackson and his emotions. Though the camera leaves Jackson to follow the other central character, a professional high-class escort, it returns to him. He is often framed against a wide expanse, like a dramatic backdrop.
In between the Kingdom of Kush, Egypt’s 25th dynasty, with its reigning Kushite kings, belonging to a culture seen in Remember the Time. Jackson’s 1993 short film starring Iman, Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson and directed by John Singleton. The legacy of Jackson lies in both the history of African kings, emirs and caliphates but also in the long line through which transatlantic slave trade occurred. When looking at high-status people of colour there is no higher status than the pharaoh, who was looked upon as more of a deity than a person of high birth. He was seen as an extension of religion and religious practice was part and parcel of his everyday life.
“For many, secularism has replaced religion, and one could argue that musicians, actors, models, and rock stars are the new gods, while chart hits are the new hymns, and concerts the only places for spiritual release”. Speaking of spiritual release, in both the live performances from the Bad Tour (1988) at Wembley Stadium and the Dangerous Tour (1992) in Bucharest, Jackson is presented centre stage, backed at times with dancers but mostly alone. Contexts of both production and reception make Jackson a high-status individual. What Michael Jackson does is give a spectacle and in the early modern masque royalty would perform for the king in the presence of the entire court and various dignitaries and ambassadors. Jackson presents himself as regal by emulating the cultural inheritance of the masque. The high-status blackness is created in the eyes of the spectator and by making Jackson a spectacle, not a freak.
The Dangerous tour show begins with Jackson being toasted out of the stage. The hole under a theatrical stage is often known as a hell mouth, representing the pits of hell, while the rafters are referred to as the heavens. Raining down on Jackson are pyrotechnic sparks which invoke theatrical performances at Shakespeare’s Globe, where the actors are flagged by an open roof, allowing in rain and the elements and exposing the cast and company to the sky. Jackson is presented as the central character in a theatrical production that encompasses his hits, dancing and singing narratives made from songs, such as Billie Jean. One of the ways in which Jackson’s cultural inheritance can be denoted is from his early childhood stardom and his emulation of James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Diana Ross and Mavis Staples. So, then, what aspects of high-status blackness are regularly performed on the modern stage? Well, ‘a range of positive attributes connected to themes of primacy, constancy, deity and divinity, high social status and distant, though potent, political power’. The performance of blackness is less a question of complexion and more of society and politics.
Queen bey and the king of pop
One of the most engaging aspects of Jackson’s live performances is dance. There is something about the black body working and straining which is speculative and warrants spectatorship. The same now can be said for Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, who can be seen as carrying on Jackson’s legacy. She is his cultural descendant, just as he culturally inherited much of his dance acumen from Fred Astaire. This also forces us to engage in debates about gender, because “in its desirability, there is an act of resistance against the colonizer’s ideal. She’s [Beyoncé’s] not leading a gender and racial revolution by a rejection of standards of beauty, but she has achieved monumental resistance against the white male gaze: Beyoncé directs our gaze to exactly how and when she wants to be seen”. A great degree of control is offered in the tight and expressive choreography and the line dancers which mimic the artist. Like Jackson, she seems to “out-dance” them as the leader of a balletic troupe. This was true for the “King of Pop” in his Wembley Stadium performance of the Bad Tour in 1988, and it is true for Beyoncé in 2018’s Homecoming, where she is flanked by a notoriously difficult to traverse triangular, pyramidal set. Just as Jackson’s on-stage performances invoke Othello and the Prince of Morocco, Beyoncé’s stage presence invokes the performance of Queen Anna in Ben Jonson’s 1608 Masque of Blackness where high-status blackness “is interpreted as presenting positive associations… especially regarding features that are unchanging and denoting inherent qualities that should, by virtue of their fixedness, be admired”.
Beyoncé, like Jackson, performs within the constraints of an “idol persona”. She performs within the center of a cult of herself as a diva and a reigning queen which is found within a fandom or Bey-hive that spans the globe. In ‘The Visual Album: Beyoncé, Feminism and Digital Spaces by Jamila Cupid and Nicole Files-Thompson’, the authors write: “with annually consecutive album releases between 2006 and 2013, Beyoncé climbed her way to the title “Queen Bey”. This was achieved by remaining in the spotlight and prompting a media storm for the greater part of a decade”. In 2013’s Beyoncé and 2016’s Lemonade Beyoncé presented the visual album in the same tradition as 1987’s Bad and 1991’s Dangerous. In the track “Formation” Beyoncé acts out the role of the southern Belle. She is always framed in the center of the screen with her dancers flanking her. At the end of the short film, she is drowned in a sea of flood water, while lying on an empty police car. Here she employs the superhuman qualities which are also found in Jackson’s high-status blackness.
In “Hold Up” from Lemonade, Beyoncé starts the short film underwater, where she seems able to breathe and undresses, performing an underwater display where she encounters a doppelganger of herself. The camera cuts to a pair of doors which open to reveal Beyoncé in a yellow dress, accompanied by floodwaters. She disrupts the notions of what is considered real and what is fantasy and proceeds to use a baseball bat to destroy a car and to smash the camera screen, which is reminiscent of Jackson’s panther dance.
What audiences may be seeking from Jackson and as a part of his legacy in Knowles-Carter is a deep sense of Afrocentricity which is not always superficially available. Beyoncé’s aesthetic, however, posits problems of theorised complexion, as she is light-skinned. What appears with Jackson is a performance of blackness that is subverted by his vitiligo, and with Beyoncé, a creole complexion not quite as “black” in skin tone as Jackson was originally. Anecdotally, these depictions are more African-American than they are African, although “Remember the Time” might be an exception to this. The Lion King: The Gift album and its accompanying film, Black is King move toward a more Afrocentric storytelling style. Dancing is a ritual part of African life and Jackson spoke about his own experiences with Africa in his autobiography, Moonwalk: “it was a visit to Senegal that made us realize how fortunate we were and how our African heritage had helped to make us what we were… The African people had given us gifts of courage and endurance that we couldn’t hope to repay”.
Due to the blackface tradition, black people of both female and male genders were portrayed by white men and boys. This makes whiteness and masculinity the base of the stage portrayal. Black actors like Michael Jackson are faced with a double invisibility caused by a lack of representation and the cultural and racial implications of slavery. Black men are ritually silenced and even removed from their own narratives. This often results in a double invisibility that uses rhetoric to strip them of their sexuality. Jackson’s androgynous appearance can appeal to a more elusive aesthetic, one which situates him outside of an easy-to-ascertain readability that conforms to societal norms. The spectatorship and audience reaction to the black actor on stage comes from questions of gender and representation. The black actor acts as an agent of allegory, depicted on stage as a caricature of what blackness is and what it is meant to signify. The complexity of readings of gender and ethnicity are further complicated by Jackson’s perceived racial unreadability: his vitiligo, use of makeup and plastic surgery.
To perform high-status blackness is to determine the self and the other, and in Jackson’s case to move into the realm of persona, rather than personality. So where does Jackson fit in as a character being portrayed on stage? His function is to exhibit the exotic and otherworldly, the idolatrous characteristics that make up his idol persona. The importance of high-status representations is that they contrast and contradict dominant accounts of black inferiority which have been propagated by portrayals cinematically in films like Birth of a Nation. To bring us back to early modern examples, Jackson, like “Niger and Morocco show[s] us the ways that two early modern playwrights display the exotic and the unknown while the characters still contain the transgressive nature of their masculinity. What is primarily exotic is not necessarily of lesser value, it simply exhibits difference that must be contained”.
Elizabeth Amisu, The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic Afterlife, Santa Barbara, California, Praeger, 2016.
——— Lisha McDuff, Karin Merx & Willa Stillwater, “A Look at Neo-Noir in Michael Jackson’s Short Films”, Dancing with the Elephant, 2016, published online, 28 January 2016, accessed 27 May 2021. URL: https://dancingwiththeelephant.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/a-look-at-neo-noir-in-michael-jacksons-short-films/.
——— “BAD (1987)”, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies, issue 1, no 2, 2014, published online 22 July 2014, accessed 9 November 2021. URL: https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/bad-1987-2/.
Peter Barry, Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2003.
John Brannigan, New Historicism and Cultural Materialism, Basingstoke, Hampshire, and London, Macmillan, 1998.
Jim Blashfield, Leave Me Alone, 1989.
Richard M. Breaux, “‘I’m a Cartoon!’ the Jackson 5ive Cartoon as Commodified Civil Rights & Black Power Ideologies, 1971-1973”, The Journal of Pan African Studies, no 3, 2010, p. 79-99.
Craig Brewer, Coming 2 America, United States of America, Amazon Studios, 2021, 110 minutes.
Colin Chilvers, Smooth Criminal, 1988.
Nicholas Cullinan, Margo Jefferson, & Zadie Smith, Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery, 2018.
David Fincher, Who Is It, 1993.
- W. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation, 1916.
Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England, Ithaca, NY, Cornell UP, 1995.
Michael Jackson, Moonwalk. 1st edition, London, Heinemann, 1988.
———, Bad, Epic Legacy, 1987.
———, Dangerous, Sony/Epic Legacy, 1991.
Miranda Kaufmann, Black Tudors: The Untold Story, London, Oneworld, 2017.
Amir Khan, “Michael Jackson’s Ressentiment: Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal in Conversation with Fred Astaire”, Popular Music and Society, issue 35(2), published online, May 2012, accessed 9 November 2021. URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263459689_Michael_Jackson’s_Ressentiment_Billie_Jean_and_Smooth_Criminal_in_Conversation_with_Fred_Astaire.
Dr. Nicolas Kluger, “The Michael Jackson and Winnie Harlow Effect: Impact on Vitiligo Awareness on the Internet”, in Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology (2019).
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Lion King: The Gift, Parkwood/Columbia, 2019.
——— Black is King, United States of America, Disney+, 2020, 85 minutes.
——— & Shawn (Jay-Z) Carter, Everything Is Love, Parkwood/Sony/Roc Nation, 2018.
John Landis, Black or White, 1991.
John Landis, Coming to America, United States of America, Paramount Pictures, 1988.
Harriet J. Manning, Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask: Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series, London, Taylor and Francis, 2016.
Vincente Minnelli, The Band Wagon, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1953.
Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1992.
‘Oxford English Dictionary OED Online’, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2021.
Elena Oliete, “Michael, Are You Ok? You’ve Been Hit by a Smooth Criminal: Racism, Controversy, and Parody in the Video Clips Smooth Criminal and You Rock My World”, Studies in Popular Culture, 29 (2006), p. 57-76.
Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, West Side Story, Twentieth Century Fox, 1961.
Martin Scorsese, Bad, 1987.
William Shakespeare & John Drakakis, The Merchant of Venice, London, Arden Shakespeare, 2010.
——— & E. A. J. Honigmann, Othello, London, Routledge, 2001.
Julie Shaw, Living with Michael Jackson, UK, ITV, 2003, 110 minutes.
John Singleton, Remember the Time, 1992.
Adrienne M. Trier-Bieniek, The Beyoncé Effect: Essays on Sexuality, Race and Feminism, Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2016.
The Shakespeare Globe Trust, << Welcome to Shakespeare’s Globe | London >>, published online, accessed 27 May 2021. URL: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/.
Joseph Vogel, Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, second edition, New York, Vintage Books, 2019.
———, “‘I Ain’t Scared of No Sheets’: Re-Screening Black Masculinity in Michael Jackson’s Black or White”, Journal of Popular Music Studies, 27, 2015, p. 112.
- Young, Theatre and Race, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
 Sherrow O. Pinder, Michael Jackson and the Quandary of Black Identity, New York, SUNY Press, 2021.
 Michael Jackson, Bad, Epic Legacy, 1987; Michael Joseph Jackson, Dangerous, Sony/Epic Legacy, 1991.
 Martin Scorsese, Bad, 1987; Colin Chilvers, Smooth Criminal, 1988; Jim Blashfield, Leave Me Alone, 1989; John Landis, Black or White, 1991; John Singleton, Remember the Time, 1992; David Fincher, Who Is It, 1993.
 Nicholas Cullinan, Margo Jefferson, and Zadie Smith, Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery, 2018, p. 48.
 Elizabeth Amisu, The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic Afterlife, Santa Barbara, California, Praeger, 2016, p. 199; ‘OED Oxford English Dictionary Online’, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2021.
 Joseph Vogel, “‘I Ain’t Scared of No Sheets’: Re-Screening Black Masculinity in Michael Jackson’s Black or White”, Journal of Popular Music Studies, no 27, 2015, p. 112.
 Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Cambridge, MA,Harvard University Press, 1992.
 Pinder, op. cit., p. 316.
 William; E. A. J. Honigmann Shakespeare, Othello, London, Routledge, 2001, p. 121-22; Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England, Ithaca, NY, Cornell UP, 1995, p. 4-5.
 Amisu, op. cit., p. 206-234.
 Ibid., p. 199-295.
 Ibid., 49-58.
 Ibid., p. 74, 152, 156.
 Miranda Kaufmann, Black Tudors: The Untold Story, London, Oneworld, 2017, p. 266.
 Ibid., p. 261.
 Michael Jackson, Moonwalk, 1st edition, London, Heinemann, 1988, p. 230.
 H. Young, Theatre and Race, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
 Harriet J. Manning, Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask, London, Taylor and Francis, 2016, p. 25.
 Cullinan, Jefferson, & Zadie Smith, op. cit., p. 47-53.
 Richard M. Breaux, “‘I’m a Cartoon!’ The Jackson 5ive Cartoon as Commodified Civil Rights & Black Power Ideologies, 1971-1973”, The Journal of Pan African Studies, no 3, 2010, p. 79-99.
 John Landis, Coming to America, United States of America: Paramount Pictures, 1988, 117 minutes; Craig Brewer, Coming 2 America, United States of America, Amazon Studios, 2021, 110 minutes.
 Amisu, op. cit., p. 87-94.
 William Shakespeare and John Drakakis, The Merchant of Venice, London, Arden Shakespeare, 2010.
 Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, West Side Story, Twentieth Century Fox, 1961.
 Elizabeth Amisu, “BAD (1987)”, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies, issue 1, no 2, 2014, published online 22 July 2014, accessed 9 November 2021. URL: https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/bad-1987-2/.
 Joseph Vogel, Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, second edition, New York, Vintage Books, 2019, p. 178.
 Vincente Minnelli, The Band Wagon, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1953.
 Elena Oliete, “‘Michael, Are You Ok? You’ve Been Hit by a Smooth Criminal’: Racism, Controversy, and Parody in the Video Clips Smooth Criminal and You Rock My World”, Studies in Popular Culture, no 29, 2006, p. 58.
 Cullinan, Jefferson and Smith, op. cit., p. 48.
 Dr. Nicolas Kluger, “The Michael Jackson and Winnie Harlow Effect: Impact on Vitiligo Awareness on the Internet”, Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, published online 1 September 2019, accessed 9 November 2021. URL: https://jcadonline.com/michael-jackson-vitiligo/?fbclid=IwAR3vsn6mYhuDuFIauNfRb0U7GptIetwKkBl5NEa7JF2ojeBd7x3H8MuqMe8.
 Vogel, op. cit., p. 198.
 Ibid., p. 103, 05.
 Ibid., p. 103, 12.
 Amisu, op. cit., p. 225.
 Elizabeth Amisu, Lisha McDuff, Karin Merx & Willa Stillwater, “A Look at Neo-Noir in Michael Jackson’s Short Films”, Dancing with the Elephant, 2016, published online, 28 January 2016, accessed 27 May 2021. URL: https://dancingwiththeelephant.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/a-look-at-neo-noir-in-michael-jacksons-short-films/.
 Amisu, op. cit., p.151.
 Shakespeare’s Globe is a “world-renowned theatre, education centre, and cultural landmark. Located on the bank of the River Thames in London, UK, and also always open online”. The Shakespeare Globe Trust, “Welcome to Shakespeare’s Globe | London”, published online, accessed 27 May 2021. URL: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/.
 Ibid., p. 223.
 Amir Khan, “Michael Jackson’s Ressentiment: Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal in Conversation with Fred Astaire”, Popular Music and Society, issue 35(2), published online, May 2012, accessed 9 November 2021.
 See “Maintaining Control Over Beyoncé’s Body” in Adrienne M. Trier-Bieniek, The Beyoncé Effect: Essays on Sexuality, Race and Feminism, Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2016, p. 67.
 Amisu, op. cit., p. 229.
 Ibid., p. 228.
 Ibid., p. 94.
 Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Lion King: The Gift, Parkwood/Columbia, 2019; Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Black is King, United States of America: Disney+, 2020, 85 minutes.
 Jackson, op. cit., p. 261.
 D. W. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation, 1916. Birth of a Nation is discussed and explored in detail in Joseph Vogel’s “‘I Ain’t Scared of No Sheets’: Re-Screening Black Masculinity in Michael Jackson’s Black or White”.
 Amisu, op. cit., p. 227.