National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha” is set to premiere on Sunday, March 21, featuring Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo as the legendary Queen of Soul.
While the project has been greatly anticipated, some members of the late singer’s family are not giving “Genius: Aretha” their seal of approval.
Earlier this week, Franklin’s granddaughter, Grace Franklin, posted a video on TikTok in which she and other family members are seen protesting the the show, chanting, “This movie’s got to go.”
“As most people know, there are two biopics on my grandma being made,” she says, referring to the upcoming film “Respect”, starring Jennifer Hudson.
“As the immediate family, we feel it’s important to be involved with any biopic on my grandma’s life, as it’s hard to get an accurate depiction of anyone’s life without speaking to the one’s closest to them,” she continues, claiming that her family “reached out” to National Geographic on numerous occasions, only to be rebuffed.
“As the immediate family — emphasis on immediate — we do not support this film and we ask that you also do not support this film, as we feel extremely disrespected, and we feel there will be many inaccuracies about my grandmother’s life,” she adds.
Aretha Franklin's granddaughter "Grace Franklin" speaks regarding her grandmother's Biopic. pic.twitter.com/bzTpldPeAz
— The 1st Lady of Love (@The1stLadyLove) March 15, 2021
Her father Kecalf Franklin — son of Aretha — spoke with Rolling Stone about his concerns.
“What we’ve found out in the past is that usually when people don’t want to work with you, that is a prelude to some type of unprofessional behaviour or a prelude to some type of untruth or slander, so we’re not quite sure where we’re going to see in this series,” he said. “That’s usually the case when people say that they don’t want to work with you.”
He told Rolling Stone that a cousin was serving as the estate’s representatives in dealings related to “Genius”, and that a deal about the family’s involvement hadn’t been reached when that cousin resigned. That, he added, was when communication between his family and the “Genius” team halted; when they tried to restart the discussions, they were turned away.
“We had our lawyers reach out to them and see if we could have some type of input and see the film and say what we like and what we didn’t like about it. And the report that we got back was saying that it was too late, production had already wrapped up and that they didn’t want to work with us. It was basically too late,” he explained.
“I felt like it wasn’t too late, though, because of the time period in which the film was going to drop and also the time period that we had reached out to them,” he added. “It seems as if the final editing hadn’t been done, that there was something that could have been done in that area, maybe after we had previewed it. They did send a non-disclosure agreement but the terms in that contract, they weren’t giving us creative control or anything like that as well. So it’s kind of like they just wanted us to check it out. But if we didn’t like it then, ‘Oh well. Sorry.’”
Ultimately, he believes that what’s at issue is “common, decent respect for our family. If I was to do a movie on your family, I would try and speak with you, your sons, daughters, grandchildren and people like that. And we just never felt like we got a shot to speak to them freely from my heart about our family member.”
In a statement to ET Canada, a rep for NatGeo noted that it’s typical in biopics such as this to work directly with the estate as opposed to individual family members.
“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 honour 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,” reads Nat Geo’s statement.
“The studio worked diligently to attain the endorsement of Aretha’s estate, which we are grateful to have,” the statement continues. “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!”
“Genius: Aretha” premieres Sunday, March 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic.