Aretha Franklin’s family slams biopic series ‘Genius,’ claims production refused to work with them

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Aretha Franklin‘s family is unhappy with the music legend’s latest depiction.

The “Respect” singer is the subject of the third season of National Geographic’s popular anthology series “Genius,” which will air two episodes on Tuesday and conclude the season with two more episodes on Wednesday.

Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo portrays the Queen of Soul while Courtney B. Vance plays her father, famed preacher C.L. Franklin.

“Genius: Aretha” has delved deep into the Franklin family’s dramatic past, including depictions of alleged domestic violence from the musician’s ex-husband Ted White and C.L.’s alleged sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl.


The singer’s family is unhappy with the series, according to Franklin’s granddaughter, Grace, who shared her opinions in a recent TikTok post.

The clip began with Grace, 15, and a group of people including more of Franklin’s family members chanting, “This movie has to go.”

Throughout her statement, Grace refers to “Genius: Aretha” as a movie rather than a miniseries, but accuses the show specifically of icing her family out.

“As the immediate family, we feel that it is important to be involved with any biopic of my grandma’s life, as it’s hard to get an accurate depiction of anyone’s life without speaking to the ones closest to them,” Grace began.

“During the process of writing, directing and filming this movie, we’ve reached out to ‘Genius’ as a family on multiple occasions where we’ve been disrespected and told that we will not be worked with,” she continued. “As the immediate family — emphasis on immediate — we do not support this film and we ask that you also do not support this film, as we feel extremely disrespected and we feel that there will be many inaccuracies about my grandmother’s life. Thank you.”


In the caption of the video, Grace explained that she doesn’t “have any grievances with the actors/actresses in either of these movies.”

Grace’s father Kecalf spoke with Rolling Stone recently and supported his daughter’s statement.

“What we’ve found out in the past is that usually when people don’t want to work with you, that is a prelude to some type of unprofessional behavior or a prelude to some type of untruth or slander, so we’re not quite sure where we’re going to see in this series,” he said, noting that he has not seen any of “Genius.” “That’s usually the case when people say that they don’t want to work with you.”

Kecalf explained that his family was in contact with “Genius” regarding their involvement, but talks fell through around the time his cousin, Sabrina Garrett-Owens, resigned as the estate’s representative. They were rebuffed when they reached out again, he said.

“We had our lawyers reach out to them and see if we could have some type of input and see the film and say what we like and what we didn’t like about it,” he shared. “And the report that we got back was saying that it was too late, production had already wrapped up and that they didn’t want to work with us.”


The miniseries went into production in 2018, not long after Franklin’s death.

“I felt like it wasn’t too late, though, because of the time period in which the film was going to drop and also the time period that we had reached out to them,” Kecalf added. “It seems as if the final editing hadn’t been done, that there was something that could have been done in that area, maybe after we had previewed it. They did send a non-disclosure agreement but the terms in that contract, they weren’t giving us creative control or anything like that as well. So it’s kind of like they just wanted us to check it out. But if we didn’t like it then, ‘Oh well. Sorry.'”

Kecalf said he’s unaware of any deal between Franklin’s estate and the production, as the estate is an entity separate from the immediate family. Additionally, the estate would have handled the licensing of Franklin’s music, so the family’s desired involvement was not financially motivated, he said.

Aretha Franklin, played by Cynthia Erivo, at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL. (Credit: National Geographic/Richard DuCree)

Aretha Franklin, played by Cynthia Erivo, at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL. (Credit: National Geographic/Richard DuCree)

“This is about common, decent respect for our family,” he added. “If I was to do a movie on your family, I would try and speak with you, your sons, daughters, grandchildren and people like that. And we just never felt like we got a shot to speak to them freely from my heart about our family member.”

NatGeo offered a statement to Fox News, acknowledging that Franklin’s family was not involved.

“We received the message from the family, we hear them and acknowledge their concern for Ms. Franklin’s legacy,” said a rep for the network. “We think we have a shared goal here – to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Aretha Franklin. We can tell you that everyone who worked on Genius: Aretha approached telling her story with the intention to respect Ms. Franklin in every aspect of the series and in every decision we made.”


“The studio worked diligently to attain the endorsement of Aretha’s estate, which we are grateful to have,” the statement continued. “We worked with many people who knew Ms. Franklin — from Clive Davis to members of her family’s estate — to make sure we told her story in an honest and authentic way. This series is called Genius — it is a tribute to Aretha’s genius — something we hope we can all celebrate. One of the comments from a guest attending our premiere last week was: ‘Aretha lived so much life… she needs 100 biopics!.’ We can’t say it any better!”

According to Rolling Stone, they approached their research for production in the same manner as the previous two seasons, which focused on Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso.

Kecalf offered Stone another statement after reading NatGeo’s.

Aretha Franklin is played by Cynthia Erivo in 'Genius: Aretha.' Franklin's family clarified that they do not hold ill will toward Erivo.

Aretha Franklin is played by Cynthia Erivo in ‘Genius: Aretha.’ Franklin’s family clarified that they do not hold ill will toward Erivo.
(Getty Images)

“The Genius series deal was initiated by my cousin Sabrina Garrett-Owens and her counsel, David Bennett,” he said. “When my brothers and I became aware of this project, the Genius series had already started production. It is our opinion that the producers of this series neglected to take the necessary steps to properly prepare for this biopic production. Most creatives begin with a subject’s immediate family to produce the most authentic and honest version of that person’s life. In our opinion the Genius series failed to do so. Neither I nor my brothers have ever spoken with the producers of this series. We agree that our mother’s life’s work should be celebrated but with respect.”

Bennett, however, told Rolling Stone that producers of “Genius” did not include Garrett-Owens in the making of the series.


“We have no knowledge what the heirs, or their representatives or the current administration of the estate has undertaken, he added. “Before [Garrett-Owens’] resignation and after, all heirs to the estate knew of the project and had the opportunity to consult the producers regarding their concerns or to make any inquires they desired.”

Kecalf admitted that the studio may have “skipped a step” in a communication error, resulting in the family not being involved. He also said that while he’s unaware of any family members participating, it’s possible that some of his cousins may have done so.

Franklin is set to be the subject of “Respect,” an upcoming film biopic starring Jennifer Hudson, who was handpicked by the “Chain of Fools” songstress to portray her. Kecalf said they’ve had a much easier time working with MGM on the film.


“We’re actually working with MGM and … they’re trying to negotiate and work with us on their movie,” he said. “I really can’t speak on that one because we’re in negotiations still with them.”


Reps for NatGeo, Erivo, and Reginald M. Turner, the attorney representing Franklin’s estate, did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment, nor did MGM. Franklin’s family could not immediately be reached.

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