Reminiscent of one of Hollywood’s old biblical epics, Michael Jackson chose ancient Egypt as the setting for his exotic and lavish new video Remember the Time. The upbeat song entertains while the story and setting recall a time when Blacks ruled one of civilization’s greatest empires.
“Usually in big spectacles when filmmakers do ancient Egypt, they don’t show or tell the truth,” said John Singleton, who directed the seven-minute short film. Singleton, who also directed the acclaimed Boyz N the Hood, said “they don’t show the beauty of Black people. Michael wanted to do something to show us as we are–very beautiful people.”
The video features Eddie Murphy as Pharaoh Ramses, supermodel Iman as Queen Nefertiti and Earvin “Magic” Johnson as the court announcer. In the video, Nefertiti tells the pharaoh that she is bored. To entertain her, he has the announcer summon juggler and flame-thrower. But, she was not amused.
Finally, a mysterious robed figure appears, disappears and reemerges as Jackson. After he (Jackson) lightly flirts with the queen, an outraged pharaoh has his men chase him through the palace and the market. After taking dancers through well-choreographed routines, he moves through the palace and has a surprising, passionate kissing scene with the queen. Just as he is about to be cornered, he disappears again and re-emerges as a cat.
Singleton and Jackson collaborated on the theme and casting for several weeks before the video was shot in less than a week’s time during January 1992.
Singleton had been a fan of Jackson’s all his life. “I just called him up and said that if he wanted me to shoot a short film for him I’d be available to do it,” he recalled. “We talked and it so happened that the next single from the Dangerous, album, Remember the Time, was coming up and he needed a director for it. It was a collaboration deciding who could play the pharaoh, who’d be really funny because we wanted to make it entertaining. I said, ‘Why not Eddie Murphy?’ and he said ‘Yeah.’ So, Michael called up Eddie to see if he’d be down for it and he said yes. We wanted a really beautiful sister to play the queen. He said, ‘You know who I think is really beautiful?’ We looked at each other and we both said ‘Iman!’ It was like osmosis!”
Singleton said he wants the film to be seen as educational as well as entertaining. “We have a proud heritage.”
The video was choreographed by Fatima, who has done choreography for Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder and Keith Sweat. “John said he wanted the dancing to be hip hop,” she told JET. Everything is going into this hip hop area. Hip hop is sort of like aerobics. It’s fast-moving and basically from our African roots. With Michael, what we did was more technical dancing. We still made it Egyptian but still street. It’s kind of techno hop. This was a new style for Michael but he was great. He picks up steps very easily. And he had a great time. We had to rehearse five or six hours a day for two weeks but it was fun. We’re happy this is an all-Black thing.”
The single Remember the Time was written by Jackson, along with Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle. It is the follow-up single to Black or White which spent seven weeks at the top of the music charts. Overall, Jackson’s Dangerous album was at or near the top of the charts since it debut in fall of 1991.
Although no figures were released, the lavish and authentic set for the Remember the Time video reportedly cost approximately $2 million.
Singleton told JET that Jackson makes short films, not videos. Although he did a number of short films as a student at the University of Southern California, this was his first as a professional. He was also working on his second feature film Poetic Justice, a film set in South L.A. and Oakland. He called that film a “street romance, a common love story, not bourgeois folks.