EXCLUSIVE: Disney+ and National Geographic have set the lead cast for Genius: MLK/X, the fourth installment in the anthology series, which will focus on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. (The Trial of the Chicago 7) will star as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Aaron Pierre (The Underground Railroad) as Malcolm X, Weruche Opia (I May Destroy You) as Coretta Scott King, and Jayme Lawson (The Batman) as Betty Shabazz. Channing Godfrey Peoples (Miss Juneteenth) will direct the pilot episode and will serve as co-executive producer on Genius: MLK/X.
Several historians and experts had come on board as production consultants prior to the start of the writers room to guide the narrative. Principal photography on the series, from 20th Television, Imagine Television and Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Undisputed Cinema, will begin in October in Atlanta.
Genius: MLK/X, the first installment of Nat Geo’s series to stream as a Disney+ original, will explore the formative years, pioneering accomplishments, dueling philosophies and key personal relationships of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Harrison Jr.) and Malcolm X (Pierre). While King advanced racial equality through nonviolent protest, Malcolm X argued forcefully for Black empowerment, identity and self-determination. With their formidable wives, Coretta Scott King (Opia) and Betty Shabazz (Lawson), by their sides, King and Malcolm X became synonymous with the civil rights era and the fight for racial and economic justice. While they met only once and often challenged each other’s views, neither would have been as successful without the other.
“We are beyond excited to have put together the incredible foursome of Kelvin, Aaron, Jayme and Weruche to bring the depth, complexity, and humanity to these indelible icons,” said the Bythewoods. “They are all next level in their chops and their passion to tell this story.”
Here are the historians and experts (in alphabetical order) serving as production consultants on Genius: MLK/X:
• Jamal Joseph (Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention), formerly a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, is a writer, director and professor of professional practice at Columbia University School of the Arts in the film department.
• Peniel E. Joseph is a writer whose book, The Sword and The Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., serves as inspiration for the series and serves as a consultant.
• Michele Norris is a columnist and consultant for Post Opinions and founding director of Peabody Award-winning The Race Card Project.
• Dr. Kameelah Rashad is the founder and president of the Muslim Wellness Foundation (MWF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healing and emotional well-being in the American Muslim community.
• Dr. Barbara Reynolds is an award-winning journalist, author and minister who penned several books, including Jesse Jackson, America’s David and No, I Won’t Shut Up: 30 Years of Telling It Like It Is, with a foreword by Coretta Scott King.
• Ambassador Shabazz, producer, writer, diplomat and eldest daughter of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X Shabazz, also serves as consulting producer for the series.
• Jeff Stetson, whose play The Meeting serves as inspiration for the series, is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter for film and television. He also penned the pilot for MLK/X and serves as an executive producer on the series.
• Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor at City University of New York, is the author or co-author of eleven books and numerous articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements.
• Pastor Michael A. Walrond, Jr., senior pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church, received numerous honors, accolades and recognitions, including induction into Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers.
“We wanted to assemble a consortium of scholars and experts who can not only lend their extensive knowledge, expertise and research but also create a space for meaningful debate and discussion to ensure an honest portrayal of the complexities of these iconic geniuses. The legacies of Martin and Malcolm are critical to our understanding of the social justice movements of today, so we had to get this right. We could not have asked for a more incredible group to guide us through their stories,” added the Bythewoods.
Brian Grazer and Ron Howard executive produce For Imagine Television. For Undisputed Cinema, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Francie Calfo are executive producers. Raphael Jackson Jr. and Damione Macedon are showrunners and executive producers. For Madison Wells Studios, Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane serve as executive producers. For EUE/Sokolow, Sam Sokolow is executive producer. Stetson is also an executive producer. Godfrey Peoples is a co-executive producer. Ambassador Shabazz serves as consulting producer.
Harrison Jr. most recently was seen portraying B.B. King in Baz Lurhmann’s Elvis. He also stars as the title character in Fox Searchlight’s Chevalier, a biopic about the French classical composer and virtuoso violinist Chevalier de Saint-Georges, which recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Harrison Jr. will also voice the role of Scar in Barry Jenkin’s prequel of Disney’s The Lion King.
Pierre can currently be seen on the big screen in Brother, Clement Virgo’s adaptation of David Chariandy’s novel, which premiered at TIFF. Upcoming, Pierre will be heard as the voice of Mufasa in Barry Jenkins’ prequel of Disney’s The Lion King and in the lead role of Jeremy Saulnier’s film Rebel Ridge for Netflix. He will also soon be seen in a lead role opposite Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal in Garth Davis’ feature Foe for Amazon Studios.
Opia starred as Terry in HBO’s I May Destroy You, receiving a BAFTA TV nomination for Best Supporting Actress as well as a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Ensemble Cast. Other credits include the limited series Our House, Top Boy and the BBC hit show Inside Number 9.
Lawson can currently be seen opposite Viola Davis and Joh Boyega in Sony/Columbia’s The Woman King. She appears in MGM/Orion’s Till and co-stars opposite Sasha Lane in Daniel Goldhaber’s TIFF breakout How to Blow Up a Pipeline, which was picked up by NEON for release. Earlier this year, Lawson co-starred as Bella Real in Matt Reeves’ The Batman for Warner Bros.
Godfrey Peoples made her feature directorial debut with Miss Juneteenth, for which she received the National Board of Review Award for Best Directorial Debut and was also recognized with nominations from the Gotham Awards and the Film Independent Spirit Awards, among others. Her TV credits include Apple TV+’s Roar and HBO Max’s Generation for directing and OWN’s Queen Sugar for writing.
Harrison Jr. is repped by WME, Anonymous Content and Del Shaw Moonves. Pierre is repped by WME, Anonymous Content, Hamilton Hodell and Sloane Offer Weber & Dern. Lawson is repped by UTA and Gang Tyre Ramer. Opia is repped by Curtis Brown, Anonymous Content and Sloan, Offer, Weber & Dern. Godfrey Peoples is repped by CAA, Entertainment 360, and Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.
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