The Oscar-nominated Cynthia Erivo for Harriet recently captured the HBO audience's attention with her portrayal of Holly Gibney in Stephen King's The Outsider. That performance also earned her heaps of respect from a certain legendary horror figure, but Erivo's already taken on another high-profile role: the iconic Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Erivo will light up the small screen as the quintessential big-voiced diva for the third season of National Geographic's Genius anthology franchise. The highly decorated series has fared well so far with the Emmys crowd, both for the Albert Einstein-centered season starring Geoffrey Rush and the followup that focused upon Pablo Picasso starring Antonio Banderas, and the franchise aims to keep that streak going.
Although no actress could possibly measure up to all audience hopes for the legendary Aretha, Erivo does hold her own respectable musical roots, leading to a 2015 Broadway turn in The Color Purple revival. She also performed an original Harriet song, “Stand Up,” at this year's Oscars ceremony. To celebrate what would have been the legend's 78th birthday, National Geographic dropped a new image of Erivo onstage as Franklin.
In a statement, the channel also announced an exceedingly timely donation to a charity, Feeding America, which was supported by Aretha throughout her lifetime:
“During her lifetime, Aretha Franklin supported a large number of charities and advocacy organization, including Feeding America. To mark what would have been her 78th birthday, and in recognition of the difficult times we are currently in, National Geographic Channel is making a donation to Feeding America in Aretha's name.”
Genius: Aretha will premiere on Memorial Day May 25 on National Geographic, which has already dropped a very brief teaser for this season.
> Aretha Franklin was a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.
Two years after Aretha Franklin‘s death, Hollywood is looking to immortalize the Queen of Soul in two separate projects. And after one of them, MGM’s feature film called Respect, was pushed into an awards season-friendly date last week, National Geographic’s Genius: Aretha has been postponed until later in the year.
Respect, the feature film debut from The Walking Dead and Jessica Jones director Liesl Tommy, stars Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin, the incredibly gifted singer with the highest number of songs on the Billboard charts in history. Hudson’s performance is supposed to be incredible in that movie, with her “mind-blowing” dailies causing MGM to shift the movie to a more awards-friendly Christmas Day release.
But National Geographic’s Genius: Aretha, which has Broadway star and nascent movie star Cynthia Erivo in the lead role, has been delayed for a different reason: the coronavirus outbreak forced them to shut down before production was completed. The network released a statement to Variety which reads in part “it has become clear that the series will not be completed in time for our previously announced Memorial Day airdate”:
“We look forward to resuming work as soon as is possible and safe, and at that time will announce a new premiere date for later this year. We cannot wait to let Aretha’s voice sing, and in the words of the Queen herself, ‘Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.’ In that spirit, we wish all of our viewers well in these challenging times, particularly those who are working in our communities to keep us all safe.”
Genius is NatGeo’s anthology series focusing on a different person each season. Season one which centered on Albert Einstein earned ten Emmy nominations, while season 2 which centered on Pablo Picasso was nominated seven times and won two. Unfortunately for Erivo and the rest of the cast and crew, the delayed release of Genius: Aretha almost certainly means they won’t be able to meet this year’s Emmy eligibility deadline of May 31, 2020. No official premiere date has been set yet, but considering there’s still some filming to do and most productions like this require relatively large crews, it may be a while yet before we get to see Erivo let loose as the Queen of Soul. In the meantime, listen to the mega-talented performer belting out a classic Isley Brothers song in Bad Times at the El Royale: