Aretha Franklin's family is denouncing Genius: Aretha, National Geographic's four-part series documenting the life and career of the Queen of Soul and starring Oscar-nominated actress Cynthia Erivo as the late music icon. Ahead of the series' Sunday premiere, Franklin's granddaughter, Grace Franklin, shared a video to TikTok of her family protesting the series' release.
Shared last week, the clip showed Grace, along with her parents, siblings, and friends, chanting, "This movie has to go! This movie has to go!" She went on to explain that "as the immediate family, we feel that it's important to be involved with any biopic of my grandma's life, as it's hard to get an accurate depiction of anyone's life without speaking to the ones closest to them." Grace explained that throughout the course of Genius' production, which began in 2018 just months after Franklin's death, they reached out to those working on the series "on multiple occasions," but were "disrespected and told we will not be worked with." She added that "as immediate family — emphasis on immediate — we do not support this film" and requested that others "also do not support this film, as we feel extremely disrespected, and we feel there will be many inaccuracies about my grandmother's life."
Speaking with Rolling Stone, Grace's father and Franklin's son, Kecalf Franklin, said that when production on Genius began, the family had their 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." Despite the request, they were told: "that it was too late, production had already wrapped up and that they didn't want to work with us." Kecalf said that despite that statement, he believes "it wasn't too late" as 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." He did note that the family was sent a non-disclosure agreement, "but the terms in that contract, they weren't giving us creative control or anything like that as well."
"This is about common, decent respect for our family," Kecalf said. "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, NatGeo said they "received the message from the family, we hear them and acknowledge their concern for Ms. Franklin's legacy," adding that they "worked diligently to attain the endorsement of Aretha's estate." The statement added that the studio and Franklin's family have "a shared goal here – to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Aretha Franklin," adding that those who worked on Genius "approached telling her story with the intention to respect Ms. Franklin in every aspect of the series and in every decision we made" and that the series is a "tribute to Aretha's genius — something we hope we can all celebrate."
Genius: Aretha premiered on Sunday, March 21, with episodes airing on four consecutive nights on the National Geographic channel. All eight episodes of the series will be available to stream on Hulu on March 25, Franklin's birthday.