R-E-S-P-E-C-T is the one thing the estate of Aretha Franklin says they did not receive from the makers of ‘Genius: Aretha,’ a miniseries designed to chronicle the diva’s historic rise to fame.
For that reason, they’re calling for a boycott of the National Geographic TV special.
Fans of the Queen of Soul are being royally treated to two productions dedicated to the diva’s life story – the Jennifer Hudson-led big screen biopic, ‘Respect’ (click here to read more), and the National Geographic made-for-TV biopic, ‘Genius: Aretha.’
The latter, led by EMMY, GRAMMY, and TONY-award winning singer-actress Cynthia Erivo, is packaged as a four-part miniseries that kicked off Sunday (March 21). Unlike the former, ‘Genius’ does not contain Aretha’s original recordings as they were unable to secure licensing rights. Instead, Erivo is using her own vocals to re-voice the Queen of Soul’s legendary tracks.
Ahead of its premiere, Franklin’s granddaughter, Grace Franklin, posted a TikTok video of her family protesting the release of the TV special – a sentiment Aretha’s son, Kecalf, doubled down on later.
“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 any accurate depiction of anyone’s life without speaking to the ones closest to them,” said Grace in the clip seen above. “During the process of writing, directing, and filming this movie, we’ve reached out to Genius as a family on multiple occasions where we have been disrespected and told we will not be worked with. 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.”
Kecalf took to ‘Rolling Stone’ to echo his daughter’s statement.
“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 behavior 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 told RS. Rolling Stone. “That’s usually the case when people say that they don’t want to work with you.”
At the time production on ‘Genius’ began (just months after Aretha’s 2018 death to pancreatic cancer), a member of the Franklin estate – Sabrina Garrett-Owens – was acting as a consultant and the estate’s rep. Kecalf says by the time she resigned, no agreement had been reached about the family’s involvement in the film.
“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,” he says. “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.”
Kecalf challenged the notion, however.
“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 continues. “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.”
Kecalf suggests his issue with National Geographic is not in the interest of financial gain, but boils down to one thing: respect.
“This is about common, decent respect for our family,” he says. “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.”
Once NatGeo learned of the hoopla, they responded with a statement to RS.
“We received the message from the family, we hear them and acknowledge their concern for Ms. Franklin’s legacy,” a rep for the network said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “We think we have a shared goal here – to honor 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.”
Click here to watch the official trailer for ‘Genius: Aretha.’