It’s clear from both the subtitle and the logline for “Malfunction” that the documentary will place an intense focus on the racial and gender biases and cultural disconnects that allowed a wardrobe mishap to completely derail the career of a popular Black female artist. “In 2004,” it begins, “a culture war was brewing when the Super Bowl halftime show audience saw a white man expose a Black woman’s breast for 9/16ths of a second.” The synopsis goes on to explain that while Jackson’s “career was never the same,” Timberlake’s “stardom only grew.”
The documentary will also investigate “former CBS executive Les Moonves’ role” in both the incident and its dissonant consequences for the two stars (via The Wrap). In 2018, after Moonves was accused of sexual harassment by six different women, a Huffington Post exclusive shed light on the then-CBS C.E.O’s grudge against Jackson. Various CBS insiders told journalist Yashar Ali they “felt strongly that Moonves played a large part in how Jackson was perceived by the public.” Moonves had initially banned both Jackson and Timberlake from the 2004 Grammys, but allowed the former NSYNC member to attend after he “tearfully apologized for the incident.” Moonves, the outlet reported, was convinced the artists had planned the malfunction in “an intentional bid to stir up controversy,” and became fixated on ruining Jackson when the singer didn’t make a “contrite apology to him.”
Seventeen years after the incident, Gomes’ documentary will investigate not how the malfunction occurred, but why and how an accident turned into a career-crashing scandal for Jackson and Jackson alone — and what the event’s fall-out represents and evidences with regard to society’s treatment of and attitudes toward Black women.