Entertainment

'Genius: Aretha' Review: Cynthia Erivo Dominates as the Queen of Soul


In the wake of Aretha Franklin’s death in 2018, competing biopics on the Queen of Soul were announced: one coming to movie screens and the other making up the third season of National Geographic ’s anthology series “Genius.” Both biopics were delayed by a year because of the global pandemic, and now “ Genius: Aretha ” is the first release to set the tone for our view of Franklin as a performer, a legend, and a woman.


The series starts with a grown Aretha ( Cynthia Erivo ) arriving at Muscle Shoals to work under acclaimed music producer Jerry Wexler (David Cross).


It also introduces one of the more frustrating things about “Genius: Aretha”: It’s a biography told with a muddled chronology, and this storytelling technique is distracting and confounding.


Creator Suzan Lori-Parks most recently wrote the script for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” and there are several commonalities between the structure of that feature and this series.


The back half of the season sees Franklin decide to eschew the fairytale image and become more of an activist, developing a bond with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ethan Henry) and embarking on an album of protest songs.


Although it is the most cinematic of the “Genius” installments because of Erivo’s spectacular performance, it never loses the feel that this is a series that requires one to listen to a supplemental podcast.






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