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Episodic image of Cynthia Erivo from National Geographic's

Source: Richard DuCree / National Geographic

Cynthia Erivo got an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman in ‘Harriet’ last year, now she’s channeling another black queen, Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s new limited series, “Genius: Aretha” and we’ve got a behind the scenes look at the upcoming project.


Looks incredible. We’re definitely excited for this one.

GENIUS is National Geographic’s Emmy-winning anthology series that dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, exploring their extraordinary achievements along with their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships. The third season will explore Aretha Franklin’s musical genius, incomparable career and the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. From her crowning as the Queen of Soul to shouldering family misfortune, all while balancing professional demands and managing her public image, GENIUS: ARETHA will focus on the full complexity of Aretha’s life that only a limited series can provide, delivering a never-before-seen perspective on one of the most important cultural and influential musical icons of our time. This new season of GENIUS is again produced by Fox 21 Television Studios and Imagine Television, from executive producer Brian Grazer, who was so passionate to shine a light on Franklin’s genius from day one.

Franklin was a gospel sensation, outspoken civil rights champion and one of the most gifted singers of her generation. She will be portrayed by recent double Oscar-nominee Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet,” “The Color Purple”) and Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance (“The People v. O.J. Simpson”) will play Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin. Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize recipient, MacArthur “Genius” grant receiver and Tony Award winner (“Topdog/Underdog”) is executive producer and showrunner and Anthony Hemingway (“Power,” “The People v. O.J. Simpson”) will executive produce and serve as the producing director. Production began in 2019 on GENIUS: ARETHA, and the limited series will premiere this fall on National Geographic.

The ensemble includes David Cross (“Goliath,” “Arrested Development”) as Jerry Wexler; Malcolm Barrett (“Timeless,” “Preacher”) as Ted White; Pauletta Washington (“She’s Gotta Have It”) as Grandmother Rachel; Patrice Covington (Broadway’s “The Color Purple”) as Erma Franklin; Rebecca Naomi Jones (“The Big Sick”) as Carolyn Franklin; Steven Norfleet (“Watchmen”) as Cecil Franklin; Kimberly Hébert Gregory (“Vice Principals”) as Ruth Bowen; Omar J. Dorsey(“Queen Sugar”) as James Cleveland; Marque Richardson (“Dear White People”) as King Curtis; T.I. as Ken Cunningham; Antonique Smith (“Luke Cage”) as Barbara Franklin; Tina Fears as Clara Ward; and introducing Shaian Jordan as Little Re.

You already know people will be comparing this to ‘RESPECT,’ the upcoming motion picture starring Jennifer Hudson — but we believe Aretha is worthy of MULTIPLE biographical projects. She is a queen we’ll always remember and revere.


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