EXCLUSIVE: Malcolm Barrett (Timeless, Preacher), Patrice Covington (The Color Purple), Kimberly Hébert Gregory (Vice Principals), Rebecca Naomi Jones (The Big Sick) and Sanai Victoria (Black-ish) are set to co-star opposite Cynthia Erivo in Genius: Aretha, the next installment of Nat Geo’s popular anthology series, from Imagine Television and Fox 21 TV Studios. Additionally, Anthony Hemingway (Power, The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) has been tapped to executive produce and direct the pilot episode.
Billed as the first-ever, definitive and only authorized scripted limited series on the life of Franklin, Genius: Aretha will begin production in December for a spring 2020 premiere on National Geographic channels in 172 countries and 43 languages.
Barrett will play Ted White, Aretha’s (Erivo) first husband and business manager, who develops relationships with songwriters and producers and picks some of her biggest hits. But as Aretha gains fame, White’s heavy drinking and volatile behavior ends their marriage. Covington and Jones will portray Erma and Carolyn Franklin, respectively, Aretha’s sisters, who are both talented performers in their own right and sing backup for Aretha. Hébert Gregory will play Ruth Bowen, a pioneer in her field, the head of a successful black-owned agency, who represents Aretha, booking her into world-class venues and getting her onto the covers of Time and Ebony magazines. Victoria will be Little Re (young Aretha), the shy, immensely talented daughter of celebrated Detroit preacher Clarence LaVaughn (C.L.) Franklin, who thrusts her into the spotlight at a very young age.
Suzan-Lori Parks is executive producer and showrunner of Genius: Aretha, with music mogul and longtime Franklin collaborator Clive Davis as well as Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman also executive producing.
Imagine is partnering with Warner Music Group for this third season, which will again be executive produced by Imagine’s Grazer, Ron Howard. Davis and Kallman have also joined as executive producers. Returning executive producers also include Francie Calfo (Genius, Empire), Ken Biller (Genius: Einstein, Genius: Picasso), Ken Biller, MWM Studios’ Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane, and Sam Sokolow. Diana Son joins as executive producer. Imagine’s Anna Culp serves as producer alongside Peter Afterman.
The third season of the anthology series will explore Franklin’s musical genius and incomparable career, as well as the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. Grammy Award winner Franklin was a gospel prodigy and outspoken civil rights champion and is widely considered to be the greatest singer of the past 50 years, receiving countless honors throughout her career.
Hemingway directed and executive produced Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G., The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, earning a directing Emmy nomination and sharing in the show’s limited series Emmy award, and Underground.
Hemingway is repped by WME, Gotham Group, and Hansen Jacobson. Barrett is repped by Management 360 and Gersh. Covington is repped by Luber Roklin Entertainment, Allegory Creative Talent and Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz. Hébert Gregory is repped by 11:11 Entertainment and Buchwald and John Meigs at HGTH. Jones is repped by Nina Shreiber and Gersh. Victoria is repped by Abrams Artists Agency.