Aretha Frankin’s family protest ‘Genius: Aretha’ after failed talks with network

'It’s hard to get any accurate depiction of anyone’s life without speaking to the ones closest to them.'

Several of Aretha Franklin’s family members are urging fans of the Queen of Soul to boycott National Geographic’s upcoming anthology series Genius: Aretha starring Cynthia Erivo.

The family has made clear that they do not approve of the series and that the producers were disrespectful to them and refused to work Franklin’s immediate family on the biopic. In a short clip shared on social media, the late singer’s granddaughter, Grace Franklin, put the network on blast for failing to consult with the family on the project. 

“It’s hard to get any accurate depiction of anyone’s life without speaking to the ones closest to them,” Grace states in the video, urging Aretha fans to boycott the series — see the Twitter embed below. 

Read More: First ‘Respect’ trailer drops for Aretha Franklin biopic

Last month, Franklin’s youngest son, Kecalf Franklin, 50, also slammed the forthcoming Genius: Aretha series, saying the family does not support it because a deal was “pushed through without our consent.”

“If you are a true fan please do not support it!!!” he wrote. Kecalf also noted that the family’s issue is with the production team, not the actors, “as we know they are just doing their jobs,” he said.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who serves as an executive producer and head writer on the series, responded to the criticism in a statement to the Detroit Free Press

“As the showrunner of ‘Genius: Aretha,’ I can tell you that every single day (and twice on Sunday!) — through COVID, social unrest, and every other challenge we faced — our intention was to respect Ms. Franklin in every aspect of our show and in every decision we made,” Parks wrote.

“As ‘The Queen,’ she is deserving of every single celebration of her life that the world can muster,” she continued. “We worked with many people who knew Ms. Franklin — from Clive Davis to representatives of her family’s estate — to make sure we told her story in an honest and authentic way. And, on a personal note, as a Black American woman, I was taught at a very young age that soul is universal.  Our series is all about soul, and we are honoring the life and soul of Aretha Franklin.”  

NAT GEO has responded to the criticism with the following statement:

“We received the message from the family, we hear them and acknowledge their concern for Ms. Franklin’s legacy. We think we have a shared goal here – to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Aretha Franklin. We can tell you that everyone who worked on GENIUS: ARETHA approached telling her story with the intention to respect Ms. Franklin in every aspect of the series and in every decision we made. 

The studio worked diligently to attain the endorsement of Aretha’s estate, which we are grateful to have. We worked with many people who knew Ms. Franklin – from Clive Davis to members of her family’s estate – to make sure we told her story in an honest and authentic way.   This series is called GENIUS – it is a tribute to Aretha’s GENIUS – something we hope we can all celebrate.  One of the comments from a guest attending our premiere last week was: ‘Aretha lived so much life… she needs 100 biopics!.’  We can’t say it any better!” 

Read More: Aretha Franklin’s estate settles with IRS over $7.8M tax debt

An earlier report on theGRIO noted that Erivo previously spoke about taking on the Franklin role amid a wave of criticism over a non-Black American playing the cultural icon. The Nigerian-born actress was reportedly raised in the U.K., and many foundational Black Americans have objected to her casting.

In a statement last December, the Harriet star said, “Over the last few months, I’ve been preparing myself to embody the Queen of Soul, from relistening to her music to discovering her rare interviews and reading some amazing books on her — all to really capture Aretha’s attitude and spirit.”

She added, “I’m truly humbled to be working alongside a very talented and musical team. Together, we’ll serve the Queen and create something special.” In an interview with NME in November, Erivo said Franklin is “part of the tapestry of the voice I have.”

Genius: Aretha also stars Courtney B. Vance as civil rights activist C.L. Franklin, Malcolm Barrett portrays Franklin’s first husband Ted White, Patrice Covington is Erma Franklin, Kimberly Hébert Gregory plays talent agent Ruth Bowen, Rebecca Naomi Jones is Carolyn Franklin and Sanai Victoria stars as Little Re, per PEOPLE.

The eight-part series will premiere over four consecutive nights, beginning Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, and will explore Franklin’s artistry and musical career. Later this year, MGM will release its Aretha Franklin biopic titled Respect starring Jennifer Hudson.

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