I will start by talking about how I figured out about National Geographic’s Genius series. I saw that there were both a series and a movie in the works post-dead of the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin. Now, both projects seemed promising but I knew there would be comparison and there would be drama about which project Ms Franklin would have approved. After reading an article or two, I found that Ms. Franklin had a few plans for who should play her and in what capacity. With her gone now, the only people we can count on is her surviving family, or can we? We see that didn’t quite work out for the Houstons. There’s never a solid united front when a Black legend dies and that needs to change. Any who, the series is eight episodes long. I finished all of them but now, I’m going back to break down how the series unfolded, what I learned and if they presented it to us in the right way. Also, no, don’t think his series was better than The New Edition Story. I also owe Mrs. Pauletta Washington an apology. I did not know she was a Juilliard-trained actress. I should have known this but I feel like we never hear about her acting.
The first two episodes jumped around a bit as far as the timeline of events. After a couple of episodes in, we finally got to just stay in the present and move forward instead of going back and forth. For a moment, the past continued to go further back while the present moved forward. I like the tactic but if you’re not paying attention, you could miss the point of the flashback or the reference to it.
So, two things. Hated her first husband, as we were supposed to, and never knew her dad had one of the typical preacher backgrounds. The one where he was holy and sanctified on Sunday but wild every other night. No clue that’s who raised her and that her mother wasn’t in her life after a certain age. Ms. Franklin made a point not to let too much of her personal life into the public spotlight so it makes sense that I never knew this part of her life. All I needed to know was that she was a phenomenal, powerhouse singer and that she was a full shade tree. But lets get back to Ted White, the pimp and awful husband played by Malcolm Barrett. Knowing who her dad was it does not surprised me that she stayed with White for eight whole years of abuse. To put this in perspective and to further annoy you all, Franklin was 19 when here and White married while he was 30. White was riding on Franklin’s coattails and he knew it, according to this interpretation of him in this series. What I didn’t understand was how this relationship lasted so long with Franklin being as stubborn and headstrong as she’s portrayed here. Personally, I couldn’t imagine how this worked for so long. When we’re introduced to the couple, it is a couple years until their divorce.
What I loved about the first episode was seeing the trial and error of “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You). You know what the song is supposed to sound like, and if you’re like me, you shook your head at every rendition of the song. Also, never knew she smoked. I guess the rasp in her voice was part of that. I always assumed that smoking was bad for singers. Back to the music. They way they made music seemed magical. Later in the series when she is talked to about becoming a producer because she was already doing exactly that, I had a “duh” moment. Franklin was one of those rare artists who was a visionary. She could see and hear where she was going. That is someone special and that is how she became who she was. Because she already knew even when she didn’t think she did.
In episode, we go further down the rabbit hole of the hold these two men have on Aretha and how these two men altered her life. I loved how they portrayed the relationship between Aretha and her dad but I wanted a deeper understanding of how these two effected each other. I felt we only got surface level conflict. Also, never knew she was pregnant at 12, but later we find this could have been a form of karma for her dad. We’ll get into that later. It seemed at though the men who were closest to her, at least at this stage in her career, she wanted to have approval or acceptance from although she didn’t need it. Everyone knew the potential she had.
Jerry Wexler was right when he told her to come to him when she wanted to be Aretha and nobody else. I think a lot of artists go through that phase in their career where they are so influenced by their idols or people they admire that they become them. Aretha knew she could do exactly what everyone else was doing and they were successful in doing what they were doing that she figured I’ll do that too. Doesn’t work that way. Wexler was telling her, “Find your own groove and lets go from there.” Of course, he was right.
What did you think of the first two episodes? Did you learn anything that you didn’t know? Anything surprise you?