In 1995, Michael Jackson wrote and recorded a song called “They Don’t Care About Us.” It was inspired by the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles and the riots that ensued when five white police officers were found not guilty by a white jury. D.B. Anderson reports that in the aftermath of the recent lack of indictments in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Jackson’s song was “resurrected at the grass roots level in many cities including Ferguson, New York and California.” One refrain: “Black man, blackmail / Throw your brother in jail / All I wanna say is that / They don’t really care about us.”
But back in 1995, before the song’s release, The New York Times published an article that denounced “They Don’t Care About Us”, saying it contained “bigoted lyrics.” Sony, which owned Jackson’s label, caved and failed to back the artist. That Times article was written by Bernard Weinraub, who is now the husband of Sony Pictures Chief Amy Pascal. After the article ran, “radio stations were reluctant to play it and one of the short films Jackson created for the song [directed by Spike Lee] was banned in the US.” Jackson was understandably furious. Anderson asserts that Jackson’s work was straightforward, and that Weintraub’s characterizations of it were both “disingenuous” and driven by animosity. He makes a strong insinuation that some of Jackson’s subsequent problems with the law were driven by this disingenuous criticism and controversy. Many of Weinraub’s email messages to Pascal have recently been exposed in the Sony hack. They seem to show he exhibited enormous influence over her decisions. Pascal, in her positions as head of Columbia Pictures and Sony, remained at least partly in control of Jackson’s career until his death.