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Music News

Michael Jackson Biopic Finds Star Amid Unreleased Music Theft

todayJanuary 30, 2023

Background

Who better to continue the long, tedious line of legacy revivals among icons than perhaps…the icon?

Late last month, Estate co-executor John Branca announced a Michael Jackson film was officially in the works alongside Lionsgate. Among the crew listed was Graham King, producer of Bohemian Rhapsody, and Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. “This is The Godfather of biopics,” Branca said.

John Branca photographed by A. Smith.
John Branca photographed by A. Smith.

As briefly touched upon last September to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Thriller, the Michael Jackson Estate have been nothing short of scandalous in their short, 14-year run. Fans have accused them of releasing fake songs and simply cheapening Michael Jackson’s legacy due to lack of care. For example, the Estates of stars such as Elvis and John Lennon commonly release new projects, whether new, remastered, good, or bad, in an attempt to draw in new fans and please old ones. Michael Jackson’s had released close to nothing for almost ten years up until last November. Brashly calling themselves the “envy of other Estates” in a statement, their recent Broadway musical, MJ, proved to be a resounding success.

However, there is more than just the Estate working to keep Michael Jackson’s legacy alive. One of those individuals is Brad Sunberg, who joined the production of the Jackson-led Captain EO in 1985 and remained an engineer and Technical Director for nearly 18 years. “I was not his best friend,” Sunberg told MJJCommunity, “but I like to think I was a trusted friend.” He shares his stories through In The Studio with MJ seminars, a passion project that has now almost traveled the globe sharing unreleased music, photos, and video. “After Michael died, I read an article in a magazine about how crazy it was working with Michael…chimps and Elephant-Man bones and snakes and so on. […] It was always unnamed sources and tabloid vomit. I got tired of the press and people who wanted to make a quick buck saying and writing whatever they wanted.”

Years later, in the early hours of January 27, 2023, Sunberg uploaded a video to his social media pages announcing that his laptop and hard-drives, full of unreleased Michael Jackson vocals, demos, and footage used to conduct his seminars, were stolen by an audience member. “It seems as though this individual actually climbed out of a window and ran across the roof, [breaking] a skylight. […] We know who it is and are working with the police.”

https://www.tiktok.com/@inthestudiowithmj/video/7193441631628954923

Hours later, through anonymous posts, videos, and links, all 50GB+ of material leaked upon the internet. Songs that fans had mythologized for 30+ years, such as “Chicago 1945” (a Thriller-era recording, similar to what would become “Smooth Criminal”) and “Faces” (a scrapped 1994 demo that was set to feature Nelson Mandela), were available for public consumption.  The days that followed saw the unethical Robin Hood having his videos quickly taken down and having various channels permanently terminated. While it is unknown whether the police have found the suspect, and as new material continues to be found and uploaded, the fate of these recordings ever being released officially remains unknown.

The Michael Jackson Estate have yet to comment on the theft.

They have, however, shared more information this morning about the Michael Jackson biopic film: it’s leading actor. Fan guesses include Alton Mason (who I spoke quite highly of in my review for Elvis), Stranger Things‘ Caleb McLaughlin, and MJ: The Musical‘s Myles Frost. The winner? Michael’s nephew and son of Jermaine, Jaafar Jackson.

Michael’s son, Prince Jackson, said on Instagram of the casting: “Truthfully, I couldn’t be happier and prouder for him, he’s been working [hard] and I know he’s going to do an amazing job. Just being himself, he embodies so much of my dad and I’m confident we are all going to do our best to show the world a part of my father they’ve never seen and that they deserve to see.”

“Jaafar embodies my son,” Michael’s mother, Katherine Jackson, said. “It’s so wonderful to see him carry on the Jackson legacy of entertainers and performers.”

In 2019, Jaafar released his debut single, “Got Me Singing”, which became part of an unreleased project.

 

Written by: Jace


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