Show respect for the genius of Aretha Franklin

Cynthia Erivo in Genius: Aretha Franklin

Cynthia erivo
Photo: National Geographic / Richard DuCree

This is what is happening in the world of television for Sunday, March 21. All times are Eastern.

First option

Genius: Aretha (National Geographic, 9 p.m., series premiere, consecutive episodes): The third season of Genius it is more than just one link in the NatGeo chain. It’s about Aretha.

Right after National Geographic Genius: Einstein Y Genius: Picasso arrives Genius: Aretha, an eight-episode look at the life and legendary musical brilliance of the Queen of Soul. Before the start of the pandemic in 2020, The AV Club spoke to showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks, one of America’s great playwrights, and a bit of a multi-screen genius herself, about bringing Franklin’s life to the screen and why genius is both a noun and a verb.

The AV Club: What made Aretha Franklin a genius?

Suzan-Lori Parks: She creates something that transcends time, that pulls on the past and launches itself into the future. And it is radically inclusive in the practice of its genius, because genius is not just a noun, it is a verb. It is something that is also inclusive. Something that ignites the genius in each one of us. She is the first person of color [to be the subject of] these series. She is the first American in the Genius series, she is the first woman in the Genius series, she is the first mom in the Genius Serie. I think this is how his genius operates. On all cylinders.

AVC: Mrs. Franklin’s father was a hugely influential figure in your life. Having delved into her story as a writer, what do you think is the core of that relationship?

SLP: Aretha’s father, Reverend CL Franklin, was a powerhouse. He was an inspiring figure. He was one of the mentors of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In ’63, he had something called, I think it was the Detroit walk to freedom. It was [at that time] the largest civil rights march of its kind so far. And then nobody finds out because a month later we had the March on Washington.

Aretha grew up in the presence of that power. She learned a lot about being a public figure from him … Her father wasn’t just a holy religious figure either. He was a human being. He was a complicated guy. Loved sunday morning Y loved Saturday night. We have a good relationship with Aretha Franklin Estate, and we hear over and over again how much she loved her father. It doesn’t mean that their relationship was perfect, but there was a strong bond between them.

AVC: How did you approach the scenes in which Aretha acts? When are we seeing one artist perform another’s performance?

SLP: Well, Cynthia Erivo is a brilliant and brilliant performer. She is also a pleasure to work with and she is very disciplined as an artist. Cynthia is a devotee of Aretha Franklin and has been [for years]. He has a lot of love and admiration for her. She is not simply imitating; It is not like this. She is channeling the spirit of the queen.

AVC: Were you always attached to the project?

SLP: Cynthia Erivo was the only one I wanted to play the role for. I had dinner with her and she came to the restaurant and they had some music on the sound system, and when she came over to my table, as she sat down, Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me” played on the sound system.

AVC: Chills.

SLP: And I said, “Sister, they called you.” And she said, “Yeah, I heard it.”

AV Club: What is your favorite Aretha Franklin song?

SLP: Well now “Call Me” is not just a song for me. It is linked to a magical moment. But I love “Rock Steady”. I love “Chain Of Fools”, “Dr. Feelgood” … so many great songs.

AVC: Is it liberating or overwhelming to interpret the life of a public figure who does not only a public figure, but an icon?

SLP: This is my thing. I am called to these great challenges, these great jobs. It’s a burden, but the burden is light in a way, because in my experience, when I work on the story of an icon, of a well-known person, their spirit helps me a lot. I rely heavily on your spirit for guidance and assistance. Like that moment when Cynthia walks in and “Call Me” sounds? I mean, I’m leaning on the spirit of Aretha Franklin there. I am saying, “Millisecond. Franklin, could you help me here? Could you help me have this conversation with Mrs. Cynthia Erivo?” And there she was. And I believe it a lot.

AVC: There is an inherent musicality to everything you write, but each project has its own sound. How are you going to find that musicality for each project?

SLP: I’m listening. It seems like a simple answer, but it is not a simple task to listen to. You have to clear the clutter and open up. And that’s one of the things that I admire about Aretha Franklin. She heard. She didn’t do the same over and over again. He went from gospel to pop, he advanced into pop music, he embraced disco music, he embraced opera. He was constantly opening up to new styles. As an artist, I take a lot of inspiration from that. I just keep my ears open. I stay awake.

Regular coverage

American gods (Starz, 8 pm): end of the third season
The Simpsons (Fox, 8 pm): direct coverage of episode 700
Shameless (Show time, 9 pm)
The Walking Dead (AMC, 9 pm)


Q: Into the storm (HBO, 9 p.m., series premiere, consecutive episodes): “QAnon has infiltrated the mainstream. We can no longer afford to ignore Q, and that does Q: Into the storm hauntingly relevant. The documentary begins with footage from the January 6 uprising in the US Capitol and culminates with scenes from the “Rally Save America” ​​that preceded the siege, literally, “the calm before the storm,” to use. a popular catchphrase from Q. Jim Watkins, owner of the 8chan website that ‘Q’ calls home, at one point likened the pro-Trump rally to the 1963 March on Washington. The comparison is twisted and lacks even a modicum of awareness of himself, as does QAnon himself. ” Read the rest of Stephen Robinson’s review of this vital documentary series.


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