Aretha Franklin’s Family Denounces Nat Geo’s “Genius” Series

The family claims producers of the project ignored their requests for input

Cynthia Erivo in "Genius: Aretha"
Aretha Franklin's family is not too pleased with "Genius: Aretha."
National Geographic

The first episodes of National Geographic’s limited series Genius: Aretha premiered last night, but those closest to the legendary singer weren’t watching — the family of Aretha Franklin has denounced the series and claimed producers ignored their requests for input.

“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,” Franklin’s granddaughter Grace said. “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.”

Franklin’s son Kecalf (Grace’s father) also spoke out about the series, which stars Cynthia Erivo as the Queen of Soul, and claimed that producers cut off communication with the family after his cousin Sabrina Garrett-Owens resigned her position as representative of Aretha’s personal estate.

“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 said. “That’s usually the case when people say that they don’t want to work with you.”

“This is about common, decent respect for our family,” he continued. “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.”

National Geographic issued a statement in response to the Franklin family’s comments, saying, “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. The studio worked diligently to attain the endorsement of Aretha’s estate, which we are grateful to have. We worked with many people who knew Ms. Franklin — from Clive Davis to members of her family’s estate — to make sure we told her story in an honest and authentic way.”

Genius: Aretha began airing on National Geographic on Sunday, March 21, and will continue to air two episodes per night through Thursday, March 25. Episodes will also be available on Hulu the following morning.

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