GENIUS: ARETHA – A Review by Hollywood Hernandez
Genius is a series on Nat Geo TV that features the lives of some of history’s greatest minds. Previous episodes have told the life story of Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein. The current Genius mini-series episode features the life of Aretha Franklin and it’s showing now on Hulu.
Viewers will learn a lot about The Queen of Soul that wasn’t really well known since Aretha was very private about her personal life over the years. I was shocked to learn the “Little Re” had a baby at age 12. The father was a school classmate. She also had another child at age 14, leaving her with two sons by the age of 15. The children were taken care of by her grandmother as she went out to make her mark on the world of music.
Aretha is played by Cynthia Erivo, who played Harriett Tubman in the movie Harriet. She’s incredible in her role and also sang the music in the movie. Although no one could match The Queen, Erivo does an excellent job in her vocal performance as Aretha.
The story shows Aretha’s life from a small child until her death in 2018. The young Aretha, known as “Little Re”, is played by Shaian Jordan. She’s a talented young actress who captures both the joys and the sorrows in Aretha Franklin’s younger life.
The story deals with Aretha’s meteoric rise to stardom, her involvement with the civil rights movement, her interactions with her two sisters, who were backup singers who tried their best to get out of Aretha’s shadow and her dealings with men. It seems like every man who met Aretha fell madly in love with her.
The story also focuses on her terrible choices in men and a womanizing father who abused Aretha’s mother. Her first husband, Ted White, played by Malcolm Barrett, was also a womanizer and abusive to her. He was also jealous of her interaction with men in her professional life and the movie shows a scene where she sits in front of a makeup mirror and reveals a black eye as she removes her makeup on the same night she was crowned as The Queen of Soul.
Courtney B. Vance plays her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, an influential minister and radio host in Detroit. Reverend Franklin took Aretha out of school at 12 so she could perform in his traveling Gospel Caravans as they traveled around the country. He also hosted parties with the influential R&B stars of the day. There “Little Re” was mentored by Dinah Washington and others who came over for dinner parties in the Franklin home.
Genius: Aretha captures the era of the 1960s civil rights movement and the strives, which she was a part of, to make this country better for African Americans. Ironically Aretha’s public persona of women’s empowerment was far different from her personal life where men dominated her life and her career.
The mini-series has received a great deal of criticism for the way Aretha is portrayed and her own family has said they don’t endorse the film. But the movie with executive producer Clive Davis, who signed Aretha to Arista Records and who oversaw her return to chart dominance, is very entertaining even if it’s not completely truthful. We’ll never know.
Genius: Aretha is rated TV-14 with each episode running under 1 hour. On my “Hollywood Popcorn Scale” I rate the movie a JUMBO.