Timberlake Pulls Out Of Motown Special In Wake Of Protests

Singer's movie commitment creates scheduling conflict.

Justin Timberlake is no longer scheduled to tell the story of Motown. The pop star has pulled out of ABC's upcoming special after protests from black groups, though the network said that the change of hosts is not a reaction to the protests, but rather the result of a scheduling conflict.

Last month Timberlake was announced as a co-host, along with Lionel Richie, for the special with the working title "Motown 45" (see "Timberlake Inks Deal To Tell His Story ... And Motown's"). But last week, black activist groups had launched an e-mail and phone campaign to protest Timberlake's involvement. Their argument was twofold — not only was Timberlake himself not black, but they felt he had not taken enough responsibility for the Super Bowl halftime incident (see "Justin 'Appalled' By Super Bowl Incident; NFL Nixes JC Appearance").

Najee Ali, executive director of Project Islamic Hope, a national civil-rights organization, had called Timberlake's selection as co-host "a cultural insult to the black community." And editor-in-chief Tanya Kersey-Henley of Black Talent News, an entertainment news publication that targets African-American professionals, wrote an editorial in last Wednesday's edition titled "Justin Timberlake: Unjustified to Co-Host Motown Special."

"Before the Super Bowl scandal, Timberlake had gotten a 'Black folks pass,' " Kersey-Henley wrote. "But then he sold out Janet [Jackson] to save his own skin, showing his true colors in the process. ... In other words, he's okay with being identified as an 'honorary brotha,' as long as it doesn't cost him anything. ... As African-Americans, we should not support this obviously contrived attempt to boost ratings and attract a wide white audience. It is thoughtless and an insult. If we allow it to happen, we will be just as guilty as them for pimping black culture to appeal to the mainstream. ... [ABC] should do the right thing and hire a co-host that respectfully symbolizes the rich legacy of the Motown label. Is Usher available?"

However, ABC said that the protests weren't the cause of Timberlake's decision to pull out of the show, but that he was unavailable as a result of signing on to do a movie (see "Justin Timberlake Signs On For First Big-Screen Acting Role"). The two-hour television program would have required Timberlake to be in Los Angeles for three days of rehearsals (since he was also slated as a performer) and then one day of taping during the first week of April, but his film-shooting schedule now requires him to be in Vancouver that same week.

"When Justin was asked to host the Motown 45th anniversary special, he gladly accepted, but alerted us to the fact that he was in talks to star in his first motion picture," the show's executive producer, Jeff Margolis, said in a statement, "and that at the last minute there could possibly be a scheduling conflict. ... He has canceled all television appearances through the end of April to allow him to concentrate on making the movie."

"[The protesters] definitely have a voice, no doubt," ABC spokesperson Lauren Tobin said. "But as it all turns out, it all came apart anyway."

No replacement host had been picked, though Richie remains on board. The special, still untitled, airs in May.