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The Jacksons: An American Dream, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992) 

This is not a biopic of Michael Jackson. As the title states, it is about the Jackson family, being based on Katherine Jackson’s autobiography ‘My Family’. The subtitle of the biopic, ‘An American Dream’ also gets a fair work-out, with members of the family referring to their dreams of a better life, ad nauseum. Michael’s singing debut even alters the lyrics of ‘Climb Every Mountain’ to ensure the song still finishes on “…till you find your dream”. The repeated use of this platitude, and other cloying narrative devices (did Michael really have a pet rat?), are unfortunate distractions in what is otherwise a fine dramatization buoyed by a magnificent soundtrack.

The first portion of this two-part miniseries covers the courtship of Joe and Katherine, the financial struggles the family endured before realizing the children had talent, followed by years of Joe ferrying the ‘Jackson 5’ around the country while Katherine remained at home caring for the remaining Jackson 4. Dominating this portion is the depiction of Joe Jackson as a strict disciplinarian who drills and punishes his children until they get their routines right, denying them a normal childhood and discouraging any relationships that may break up the act. Control starts to be wrested from his vice-like grip once Motown founder Berry Gordy arrives on the scene.

Aired around the time that Michael was subjected to unfavourable treatment from the press (and this was before allegations of him sexually abusing children), The Jacksons: An American Dream was cynically viewed by some as part of a public relations campaign to restore his standing, as if to say “I may be Wacko Jacko, but look at what a mongrel my dad was!” While there may be an element of truth to this, it’s dismissive of what is a solid piece of entertainment. Alex Burrall, Jason Weaver and Wylie Draper all excel in their portrayals of Michael at various ages, most notably under the choreography of Michael Peters, who won an Emmy for his work here.

Peters would reteam with Angela Bassett, who stars as Katherine, the following year in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It? 

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Biopic dates Michael’s birth as sometime between 1959 and 1964, when in fact he was born on August 29, 1958.

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