By Monique Jones,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Wobbly bio series contains harsh sexual situations
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Aretha Franklin persevered against all odds, including her own trauma, to become an American legend. Her courage against racism helped her not waver from her goal of giving back to Black America.
Positive Role Models
Aretha Franklin did her best to live above her traumatic upbringing and became an icon and social justice leader.
Violence & Scariness
Racial violence, including the Detroit riots, police violence, racist mobs, and the murder of Martin Luther King. Domestic abuse is shown.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Several scenes with sexual moments or sexual connotations, such as sexual touching, kissing, and intense sexual situations like threesomes. Sexual assault is alluded to, as well as sexual inappropriateness towards and pregnancy of 12-year-old girls. Pimping is also addressed.
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Swear words and phrases like "dammit to hell," "hell," "sons of bitches," "bulls--t," "damn," "s--t," "goddamn it." Slurs such as "damn dirty monkey," the N-word, "chocolate baby," "honkies," "commie." Ableist terms such as "head case," "crazy."
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Products & Purchases
Franklin's interview with TIME Magazine is a focal point of one of the episodes. Several covers of prominent American magazines and newspapers are shown.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Scenes with smoking and drinking, including drinking while driving and giving alcohol to a 12-year-old girl.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Genius: Aretha is a miniseries starring Cynthia Erivo as iconic singer Aretha Franklin. The series has scenes of smoking, drinking, and sexual moments and references. Preteen pregnancy is one of the series's focal points, and the pregnancy itself could have been the result of rape. Swear words, including racial slurs are used: "bulls--t," "damn," "s--t," "goddamn it." Slurs such as "damn dirty monkey," the N-word, "chocolate baby," "honkies," "commie." There is also racial violence shown, including footage from the Detroit riots in the 1960s. That said, Aretha Franklin persevered against all odds, including her own trauma, to become an American legend.
Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
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What's the Story?
GENIUS: ARETHA stars Cynthia Erivo as the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and shows how her traumatic childhood shaped her into the woman and celebrity we know today. Courtney B. Vance stars as Franklin's father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, who helped her shape her talent in the midst of his own complicated life, and Malcolm Barrett stars as Ted White, Franklin's abusive first husband.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how pain can inform people's lives and futures. How does trauma mold Aretha Franklin's life? How does she work to acheive her goals despite her challenges?
How did Franklin contribute to social justice? Are there ways you want to contribute to social justice in your own life and community?
What were moments when Franklin showed personal growth? What caused her to grow?
- Premiere date: March 21, 2021
- Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Courtney B. Vance, Tip T.I. Harris, Malcolm Barrett
- Network: National Geographic Channel
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- TV rating: TV-14
- Last updated: May 26, 2023
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Where to Watch
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