By Deon C. Jefferson
Since the world is opening back up again, it is only right that things go back to normal in entertainment. As scheduled, the Emmy nominations were revealed last week. Television was a huge part of the pandemic, that is pretty much the best activity while being locked up at home. In 2020, “Genius” Aretha, the docuseries that starred Cynthia Erivo as “The Queen of Soul” premiered.
“Genius” was developed by Noah Pink and Kenneth Biller as an anthology period drama television series. The series airs on the National Geographic network. One of the first iconic figures to be explored was Albert Einstein. Highly revered artist Pablo Picasso was featured on the second season. There is future to do a season on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When it comes to the “Aretha” season, it unveils an in depth look at her incomparable career, and the tremendous impact she has had on music. “Genius” gives fans an unapologetic look at the singer, pianist, writer, civil rights activist, and all-around entertainer.
Erivo has a stellar supporting cast. She is joined by the likes of Emmy Award winner Courtney B Vance. In the series, he does a fabulous job of playing her father, C.L. Franklin. Many of the fans know that it was the leadership and mentorship from her father that made her a star. Vance is no stranger to playing iconic figures, he has also played Johnny Cochran in “The People VS OJ Simpson’’ made for tv movie. Malcolm Barrett portrays Aretha’s business manager and first husband. David Cross makes an appearance as Jerry Wexler, the person who guided and molded Franklin into the new commercial and professional heights. Another notable portrayal comes from Omar J. Dorsey, who plays gospel great James Cleveland. Dorsey’s portrayal of Cleveland is super convincing. Cleveland was a very close friend to the Franklin family.
Although Erivo is no stranger to acting, she had big shoes to fill. She had to cover some of Franklin’s most beloved and respected songs. The series featured several of Franklin’s hits like “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Chain of Fools”, “Don’t Play That Song”, “Save Me”. Eviro did a phenomenal job of covering Franklin’s songs. Eviro not only managed to channel Franklin, but she also covered the songs very carefully. Fans appreciated the fact that Erivo gave her rendition, instead of trying to recreate, or badly impersonate Franklin’s work. The series also featured some clips of Franklin performing “I Knew You Were Waiting” and “Freeway of Love”.
It is no secret that Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson is starring in the motion picture “Respect” next month. So, the race is on for who can create the best Aretha Franklin project. Originally, the movie was scheduled to be released last year, just in time for award show season. Unfortunately, the movie was pushed back. It may have had something to do with the “Genius” project regarding Franklin’s life. The fact that Erivo is getting attention for her portrayal as Franklin, puts the pressure on Hudson to deliver. There were several mixed reviews about Erivo playing Franklin. Some felt like she did not have the vocal skills to tackle one of Franklin’s songs. Hudson, on the other hand, has been seen singing a slew of Franklin’s songs since her early days on American Idol.
“She had a wonderful way of communicating the things that she has been through”, says Erivo to the Detroit Press. “In doing that, she was able to provide a space for people to express how they were feeling. I learned a lot of what I know now and my performances by watching and listening to her.”
Erivo did not have to do much to get the role. She was kind of a shoe-in after she sang “Ain’t No Way” at the Tony’s in 2019. Although she did not have to audition, she is facing some steep competition for the Emmys trophy. Fans can expect to see a good competition between Michaela Cole for HBOs “’I May Destroy You,” Kate Winslet for HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” Any Taylor-Joy for Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” and Elizabeth Olsen for Disney+’s “WandaVision.
Erivo is no stranger to award show gold. She is already a Tony Winner, Grammy Winner, and Daytime Emmy Award Winner. Her work has landed her in movies such as “Harriet” and “Widows”. Eviro has been nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe twice.