Cynthia Erivo to Portray Aretha Franklin in First-Ever Authorized Series

Award-winning actor Cynthia Erivo has been tapped to play Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s Emmy-winning global anthology series Genius: Aretha. Erivo, who also stars in an upcoming biopic on Harriet Tubman, will begin filming the series in November.

Genius: Aretha, from Imagine Television and Fox 21 TV Studios, will delve into Franklin’s acclaimed musical career and her influence on American music and culture. Franklin, a vocal civil rights champion, was a gospel prodigy who won wide acclaim during her long career, including 18 Grammys.

Franklin’s songs, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Chain of Fools,” “Don’t Play That Song,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” and “Baby I Love You” will be featured, as well as her performances of “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Freeway of Love,” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”

The series will also feature Erivo performing some of the biggest hits from Franklin’s Warner Music catalogue.

“Aretha Franklin has been a source of inspiration for me since I was a little girl,” Erivo said, according to Deadline. “Her strength, passion, and soul are evident in her everlasting legacy, not only as a transcendent artist, but as a humanitarian and civil rights icon. To have the opportunity to bring her legacy to life and show the fullness of her being, her humanity, and brilliance, is an honor.”

Erivo continued: "What I know and have learned about what my voice, as an artist, can do and the power in it has been highly influenced by Franklin. I feel privileged and excited to be a part of the sharing of her genius.”

Imagine’s Brian Grazer said the Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-winning actor blew him away.

“Not only is she an incredible and bona fide star, but she is soulful and has tremendous depth as a musical artist,” Grazer said. “Cynthia is the perfect person to portray the profoundly human story behind the genius that is Aretha.”

She was equally praised by National Geographic’s executive vice president and head of global scripted content and documentary films Carolyn Bernstein. “The fabulously talented Cynthia Erivo is dream casting to play iconic musical genius Aretha Franklin. On the heels of her Tony Award-winning turn in The Color Purple and breakout performance in upcoming feature film Harriet, we can’t wait to see Cynthia bring her fierceness to the role as the Queen of Soul.”

Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Topdog/Underdog,” will serve as executive producer and showrunner of the series about the Queen of Soul. Clive Davis, a longtime Franklin collaborator and music mogul, will executive produce the series along with Diana Son and Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman.

The series is slated to premiere on National Geographic channels in 172 countries and 43 languages in the spring of 2020, according to Deadline. Franklin’s niece Sabrina Owens celebrated the series honoring her aunt, calling it a “great affirmation of her legacy.” Owen added that Erivo was “an extraordinary talent with an amazing voice.”

Imagine will partner with Warner Music Group for the third season and will be executive produced by Imagine’s Grazer, Ron Howard, and Francie Calfo. Ken Biller, Gigi Pritzker, Rachel Shane, and Sam Sokolow will return as executive producers. Imagine’s Anna Culp and Peter Afterman will produce.

News of Erivo’s role in the series precedes the highly anticipated Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet, premiering on November 1. Harriet follows the life of the brave abolitionist who escaped enslavement in the South only to return and bring dozens of enslaved people to freedom in the North.

Tubman, born on a Maryland plantation sometime around 1820, is believed to have led at least 70 enslaved people to freedom by herself. The new film will follow Tubman’s amazing escape and her incredible work on the Underground Railroad.

“God don’t mean people to own people,” 32-year-old Erivo says in a trailer released in July. “I will give every last drop of blood in my veins until this monster called slavery is dead.”

Erivo stars in Harriet alongside Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles, and Clarke Peters. Harriet was directed by Black Nativity director Kasi Lemmons, who wrote the script along with Remember the Titans writer Gregory Allen Howard. It was produced by Charles D. King’s MACRO, New Ballon, and Stay Gold Features.


About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, includingNewsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.