Courtney B. Vance and Suzan-Lori Parks discuss ‘Genius: Aretha’ on theGrio’s ‘Acting Up’ podcast

The two talents revealed their intention to honor the Queen of Soul in the new project

It’s almost time for the highly-anticipated third season of NatGeo’s Genius anthology to debut and this time, the eight-episode limited series will focus on one of music’s greatest icons, Aretha Franklin

Genius: Aretha premieres on March 21 and in it, we will see Cynthia Erivo starring as the late singer known as the “Queen of Soul” alongside Courtney B. Vance, who plays her father, C.L. Franklin. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks served as showrunner for the series that also stars Patrice Covington and Malcolm Barrett.

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

During a candid conversation on theGrio’s newest podcast, Acting Up, Vance revealed his approach to the controversial character who was a celebrated minister, musician, and civil rights leader with his own vices to contend with. 

“Anybody during that time period saw the person being shot and hung and burned and dragged and those fingers taken as souvenirs… and so he came up out of that. And of course, there was no psychologists or psychiatrists there to help these people through,” he explains. 

Courtney B. Vance
(Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

“We’ve seen the the Martin [Luther King Jr.] on a pedestal. We have Malcolm [X], Rosa [Parks], we’ve got Coretta [Scott King], we know them on the pedestal. I think it’s important, you know, eventually to talk about the fact that they were human; that they had foibles; that they hurt. They had longings,” he continues.

When it comes to the prolific preachers reported proclivity for fast-living, partying, and women, Vance explains that despite his vices, he was an essential and influential figure for so many. 

“They ran the family out of Memphis because of something that C.L. had done,” he continues. “Yes, he messed up. He messed up bad. But we know what the world is against us.”

He also spoke about Aretha Franklin’s ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, including having a child at age 12 and dealing with abusive men. 

“The people will be able to see that she struggled like we struggle; that she was no different, absolutely no different than we are. She had pain. The question is, what are you going to do about? How are you going to handle it?”

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

Parks discussed her commitment to humanizing the iconic figures she portrays onscreen. 

“I really worked very hard to humanize all of them. I mean, what most of us know about Aretha Franklin is a bunch of labels like, ‘She’s a diva! She’s the queen of shade!’ and ‘She’s the queen of soul.’ But what does that mean, really? Then we know her quirks, you know, ‘She doesn’t like air conditioning!’ So there are a lot of little sound bite things, but to I worked very hard to humanize Aretha, C.L., Irma and every single character that we had in the show. To humanize a character, a Black character, a Black person is still, in 2021, a political act,” she says. 

“So by humanizing C.L. Franklin, we’re not just reducing him to a lot of soundbites and headlines, you know what I’m saying? Nor are we doing that to Aretha. So that was my intent with every single character across the board.”

The eight-episode limited series Genius: Aretha premiered March 21 on NatGeo. Check out the full conversation with Courtney B. Vance and Suzan-Lori Parks on the latest episode of Acting Up. 

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