Aretha Franklin’s youngest son has slammed the forthcoming National Geographic series about the late star’s life and career.
In an angry, all-caps Instagram post, Kecalf Franklin aimed sharp words at “Genius: Aretha,” the eight-part series scheduled to premiere March 21 with Cynthia Erivo as the Queen of Soul.
He says the family does not support the project, contending a deal was “pushed through without our consent.”
“If you are a true fan please do not support it!!!” wrote Franklin, 50. The youngest of Aretha Franklin’s four sons, he’s known informally as Kelf.
In a footnote, he added that his criticism is not directed toward the show’s actors, “as we know they are just doing their jobs.”
Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who is head writer and an executive producer of the Franklin series, responded Monday evening in a statement to the Detroit Free Press:
“As the showrunner of ‘Genius: Aretha,’ I can tell you that every single day (and twice on Sunday!) — through COVID, social unrest, and every other challenge we faced — our intention was to respect Ms. Franklin in every aspect of our show and in every decision we made,” Parks said.
“As ‘The Queen,’ she is deserving of every single celebration of her life that the world can muster. We worked with many people who knew Ms. Franklin — from Clive Davis to representatives of her family’s estate — to make sure we told her story in an honest and authentic way. And, on a personal note, as a Black American woman, I was taught at a very young age that soul is universal. Our series is all about soul, and we are honoring the life and soul of Aretha Franklin.”
Franklin’s online tirade probably won’t be the last of the fireworks surrounding “Genius: Aretha”: There already has been pushback from some African American fans about the casting of Erivo, a British actress who received similar criticism ahead of her role as Harriet Tubman in 2019’s “Harriet.” And an insider says there is likely to be discontent about certain storylines in the new series, including the portrayal of Aretha’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin.
On top of it, “Genius” arrives amid the contentious, ongoing battle over the estate of Franklin, who died in August 2018. Kecalf Franklin is among those who have lobbied to take over as the estate’s personal representative.
The eight-episode National Geographic series is set to air March 21-24. It’s the third installment of the scripted “Genius” series, following seasons documenting the lives of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso.
“Genius: Aretha” was directed and executive-produced by Anthony Hemingway, whose credits include 2016’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Executive producers also include Ron Howard and Brian Glazer.
The “Genius: Aretha” airdates and a new trailer were released last Tuesday. Franklin published his critical post three days later, writing: “Here we go again!!!”
In January 2020, Franklin had similarly attacked the upcoming MGM biopic “Respect” starring Jennifer Hudson, asking, “How can you make a movie about a person and not talk to the persons sons or grandchildren about important information?”
Kecalf Franklin’s beef with the two projects comes as the legal wrangling over her estate continues. He was among those vying to take over as the estate’s personal representative after the resignation of Sabrina Owens, Aretha Franklin’s niece, early last year.
A probate court judge instead appointed Detroit attorney Reginald Turner as temporary executor. Proceedings ground to a slow pace amid the ensuing pandemic, although mediation among the four sons and their attorneys has continued behind the scenes. The next probate hearing is scheduled for March 1.
A planned jury trial to determine the validity of three handwritten wills discovered after the Queen of Soul’s death is indefinitely on hold.
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