In response to negative criticism and viewer outrage over a controversial four-minute dance sequence in Thursday's worldwide premiere of Michael Jackson's "Black or White" video, during which the frail superstar violently smashes a car and simulates masturbation, Jackson decided Friday to delete it.
"It upsets me to think that 'Black or White' could influence any child or adult to destructive behavior, either sexual or violent," Jackson said in a statement released through his publicists.
"I've always tried to be a good role model and therefore have made these changes to avoid any possibility of adversely affecting any individual's behavior. I deeply regret any pain or hurt that the final segment of 'Black or White' has caused children, their parents or any other viewers," he said.
It was not immediately clear how soon the edited version of the $4-million video would begin showing; MTV said that it would continue airing the original version until the new one was delivered. But the shorter version will serve as a substitute for the original in a television special airing Sunday on Fox, MTV and BET--the three outlets that premiered the video on Thursday. The special is part of the publicity campaign for the coming "Dangerous" album, Jackson's first since "Bad" in 1987.
Bolstered by Jackson's appearance, Fox's 8 to 10 p.m. lineup Thursday scored the highest ratings for any night in the network's five-year history. Friday morning, however, switchboards at the network and affiliates lit up with
"We won't broadcast it again," Kent Lillie, general manager of WPTY-TV in Memphis, Tenn., told the Associated Press. Lillie aired the video without previewing it and got about 100 complaints. "We thought it was not consistent with the tastes and standards in this community."
"We've gotten lots of calls this morning in both directions, for and against the video," Fox network spokesman Andrew Shipps said.
A source from Jackson's production company reported that negative feedback was coming "from all directions." The decision to re-edit, Jackson's camp said, "was made by Michael in response to parental concerns over the 'panther sequence.' "
In that smoky performance sequence, which was an epilogue to the actual song portion of the video, a black panther mystically transforms into Jackson through an expensive, computer-generated technique. Jackson, amid growls and howls, dances himself into an animal frenzy in a dark alley, culminating in the attack on a parked car with a crowbar.
The number, according to the press statement, was "Jackson's interpretation of the panther's wild and animalistic behavior." Throughout the dance, Jackson takes his crotch grabbing, for which he has been criticized in the past, to new extremes, including simulated masturbation and a close-up of him zipping up his pants.
"The epilogue is really a performance piece by Michael Jackson that can stand totally on its own," director John Landis, who also directed Jackson's pioneering "Thriller" video in 1983, told The Times last week. "It's essentially an improvisation of Michael's."
Because of production problems stemming from Jackson's quest for spectacular entertainment, the video was still being edited Monday night and reportedly did not reach Fox, MTV or BET until Tuesday, giving those outlets little time to contest any standards questions.
In an interview last week, Sandy Grushow, executive vice president of Fox Entertainment Group, assured The Times that the video would receive proper clearances.
"It will be screened in time, in order to react to any potential broadcast standard issue," he said.
Friday morning, however, following negative reaction, Fox held closed-door meeting to decide how to deal with reaction to the broadcast. In a statement, the network said later, "in hindsight, this decision was in error. Based on calls we've received, the strong symbolism used in one sequence overshadowed the film's message about racial harmony. We apologize to anyone who interpreted that sequence as sexually suggestive or violent and was offended."
Fox's 8:25 p.m. broadcast of "Black or White" on Thursday, introduced by Bart Simpson, paid off in ratings. According to A.C. Nielsen figures, "Black or White" was seen in about 14.4 million U.S. homes on Fox, topping the Emmy Awards as the highest-rated special ever broadcast on the network.