Parents' Guide to

Genius: Aretha

By Monique Jones, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Wobbly bio series contains harsh sexual situations

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Genius: Aretha links together several vignettes of Aretha Franklin's life, supposedly for dramatic effect, but the result can leave viewers feeling like they know too much and yet not quite enough about Franklin's life. While the actors involved give great performances -- Erivo, Vance and Barrett in particular -- the series overall is frustrating. It seems only interested in Franklin's trauma and doesn't give equal balance to her successes and ability to overcome. In fact, the series overly indulges in the worst parts of Franklin's life to wallow in pain, instead of dissecting it and show how Franklin rose above potential setbacks. The subject matter is handled haphazardly, which seems to be an unfortunate calling card of Susan-Lori Parks' writing style. Parks wrote Genius: Aretha and The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and both focus heavily on dramatizing female pain and trauma to horrific effect and with no resolution.

According to this series, almost every man in Franklin's life, including her own father, has failed her due to their own personal transgressions. Some of those transgressions are criminal, such as her first husband Ted White pimping women as his main source of income apart from managing Franklin's career, and her father Rev. C.L. Franklin (Vance) impregnating a 12-year-old girl at the same time her mother was pregnant with her. Yet, it takes too long for the series to show us how Franklin truly feels about these men, or if these men ever become genuinely contrite for their actions. Even more frustrating is that the miniseries seems to posit that Franklin's career was dominated by her attempts to mold herself in the image of her romantic partner at the time. For instance, even though Franklin was interested in being politically-minded, her interest only grows once she befriends (and possibly develops a crush on) Martin Luther King (Ethan Henry) and follows him as a singing act on his speaking tour. Once she meets her paramour Ken Cunningham (T.I.) after her divorce from White, she models herself after his radical idealism. This portrayal flies in the face of how many see Franklin as an icon of female independence and personal strength. While it's important to learn more about Franklin and her life, it's worth remembering that Franklin's family is opposed to this miniseries. After viewing it, it's not hard to see why.

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