E.t begins with a trip that was by no means trivial in the sixties: Aretha Franklin travels from Detroit to Alabama with her manager and husband. There she wants to record new music in the Fame Studios, including “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, which will later sell a million times. But before that, there is her constant unease: as a black woman in a car in Alabama, marked by a dangerous incident from her childhood in a similar situation. As a singer in the recording studio, but surrounded by white musicians. As a successful woman, but with a jealous and jealous husband who constantly interferes in her career. Aretha Franklin, as the new series on Disney + shows, was not only a great singer, but also great at not being discouraged.
“Genius: Aretha” is the third season of National Geographic’s anthology series, which previously featured Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. So now the genius Aretha Franklin – just in time for the movie “Respect” about her life, which is due to hit US cinemas in August. Jennifer Hudson will play Aretha Franklin in the cinema. She is portrayed on Disney + by the Briton Cynthia Erivo, who was nominated twice for an Oscar last year: once as Harriet Tubman in the biopic about the famous escape helper, once for the title song “Stand Up”, which she co-wrote and sung herself.
Cynthia Erivo is a godsend for the series because she brings exactly the right balance of temperament and restraint. Some biopics suffer from the fact that the main characters always behave as if everything revolves around them – which may be authentic in some cases, but not in most. “Genius: Aretha” does not make this mistake. Cynthia Erivos Aretha is part of a family in which she is not always in the foreground, and she sometimes leaves the room in frustration, even though the action takes place next door. There is automatically less drama in the game, but the figure becomes rounder.
Only the first two episodes were available for reviews, but they too offer surprises for those who only knew a few key facts about Aretha Franklin. Grew up as the daughter of a pastor and sang gospel at an early age: The image that is formed on the basis of this information is much brighter than the reality that the series shows. There are nice scenes in which the young Aretha, brilliantly played by Shaian Jordan, hears Dinah Washington singing and decides that she also wants to become a singer. But her childhood was not exactly protected.
Pastor Franklin (played by Courtney B. Vance) was a very fun-loving man who lived apart from his wife, loved to party and toured the country with a kind of church service gospel roadshow with his gifted daughter. Things were anything but pious there: Little Aretha gave birth to her first son at twelve and the second at fourteen – the series suggests that someone abused her at one of the roadshow’s parties, but who it was is still not public known. In the first two episodes, however, the series does not address the fact that Aretha Franklin’s father also abused a twelve-year-old girl who was a member of his parish in Memphis and had a daughter from him in 1940. That same year, Franklin’s wife, Barbara, gave birth to Aretha’s older sister.
Her two eldest sons bind Aretha Franklin even closer to the family, especially to her grandmother (Pauletta Washington), who takes care of the children, and her sisters, who are also musically gifted and who later sing for them in the background. The scenes with live performances or studio recordings are among the strongest moments of the series, and this is not only due to the hits, but also to the differentiated process: how the singer makes the songs her own, how she searches for the right beat, like her is dissatisfied after the first attempt and still after the tenth, and later satisfied and resolved.
But Aretha Franklin wasn’t just a singer. Like her father, she campaigned resolutely and loudly for the black civil rights movement and called for the “RESPECT” that she had sung so successfully about. The series only hints at this development in the second episode, as it actually takes up many threads at once. That is basically the only thing that “Genius: Aretha” is missing: a dramaturgy that works towards an event and thus keeps the audience engaged. The story tends to ripple away. But that’s mostly the same with real life.
“Genius: Aretha”, from today on Disney +