Courtney B. Vance, an Emmy winner for his performance as Johnnie Cochran in FX’s The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, is set to 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.
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.
Vance joins as Aretha’s (Erivo) father, C.L. Franklin, an influential reverend and civil rights activist known as the “Million Dollar Voice.” A star in his own right, C.L.’s legendary sermons were published and sold in record stores and broadcast on a weekly radio show, and he booked national ministry tours and public appearances. C.L. had a close but fraught relationship with his daughter and supported her throughout her career, most notably when he encouraged her transition from singing gospel to more popular genres.
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. Anthony Hemingway (Power, The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) will executive produce and direct the pilot episode.
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.
“It’s an honor to join the Genius: Aretha team, and to bring to life the magnificent story of the Queen of Soul, an amazing woman who my wife, Angela, and I loved dearly,” said Vance, who also received a Grammy nomination earlier this year for Best Spoken Word Album for his narration of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Accessory To War. “Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin, had a profound impact on her trajectory from a girl in a gospel choir to a global phenomenon—both in a good way and a bad way. I’m eager to dive into his story, and to have the tremendous opportunity to work with the undeniable talents of Suzan-Lori Parks and Cynthia Erivo. And I’m always excited to work with Anthony Hemingway.”
“Courtney B. Vance is an actor whose work I’ve admired for so long,” said Parks. “To have him bring his award-winning talents to the role of C.L. Franklin, a man of great conviction who also had many flaws, is a beautiful dream come true.”
The previously announced ensemble cast also includes Malcolm Barrett, Patrice Covington, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Sanai Victoria.
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 role marks a return to a Fox 21 Television Studios production for Vance, who starred as Johnnie Cochran in FX’s critically acclaimed series The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, for which he won the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Limited Series and Critics’ Choice Award for Best Actor in a Movie/Miniseries, along with Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations. Vance will be seen in Universal/Will Packer Productions upcoming romantic drama, The Photograph, alongside Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield. He was recently seen on the big screen starring opposite Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in Peter Hedges-directed drama Ben Is Back from Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. He’s set to star in the HBO drama Lovecraft Country, opposite Aunjanue Ellis and Elizabeth Debicki, and Netflix film Uncorked from Insecure EP Prentice Penny. Vance is represented by WME and Fox Rothschild.