Following National Geographic’s (DStv channel 181) Genius bio-dramas about Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, the spotlight falls on singer-songwriter, composer and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Genius: Aretha tells the story of her life to shine a light not only on her incomparable gift for interpretation and performance (safely in the hands of Grammy-nominated singer and actress Cynthia Erivo), but also on how she was shaped by and transcended her time. It contextualises Aretha’s life in the light of American politics and prejudices of the time and shows how her music fed off – and fed into – the civil rights movement and the fight for racial, gender and economic equality during the 1960s and 1970s.
From her earliest days of finding her feet and her voice in her father’s church choir in the early 1950s, the series takes us inside the recording studio with Aretha as it re-creates pivotal songs and performances, those moments of creative struggle and breakthrough. We’ll see the hair-raising moments of inspiration when Aretha sparks a creative fire in her recording musicians as her songs take shape in front of us.
We’ll see how she fought for control of her career from her first success after she signed with Atlantic Records under producer Jerry Wexler (David Cross) in 1966, to how she grew her relationship with producer Clive Davis (Christopher Redman) at Arista after signing with him in 1979. And we’ll see how hard she had to fight to be heard at all in an industry that could be notoriously exploitative, particularly towards black people, and dismissive towards women.
As well as being a portrait of a remarkable talent, Genius: Aretha tells a story about complicated people. It invites us to understand how someone like Aretha’s father, the Reverend CL Franklin (in a subtle and powerful performance from Courtney B. Vance) could have 1 hand in the light and the other in the shadows. It shows us how he could love, nurture and support his daughter and guide her talent on 1 hand, while getting a 12-year-old girl from his church pregnant and abandoning her to protect his reputation and his family on the other. It shows Aretha coming to terms with her father’s nature, and her struggle with her own complex drives as she was forced into a tug of war between her career and her family.
Aretha had a hard road ahead of her to create the kind of music she wanted to, but like a true Genius she carved out that path until it was something that looked not only natural, but inevitable.
Genius: Aretha will be available on Catch Up on DStv, and the season will build to a Box Set, so you’ll be able to binge it in 1 go from Wednesday, 18 August
Watch Genius: Aretha S3 from Wednesday, 30 June on National Geographic (DStv channel 181) at 21:00
NB! National Geographic (DStv channel 181) is available on DStv Premium, Compact Plus, Compact and Family. To get DStv or to upgrade your package, Click here.