2020 will see dueling Aretha Franklin biopics, with Cynthia Erivo set to portray the Queen of Soul in Nat Geo’s “Genius: Aretha” and Jennifer Hudson taking on the role in the feature film “Respect.” But all involved in the Nat Geo series say there’s room for everyone.
“I haven’t spoken to Jennifer personally,” Erivo said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday. “[But] I sent her a message saying congratulations. I’m really looking forward to seeing her version in the film.”
“I’m actually excited by the fact that we get to tell her story more than once,” she said. “I think the more the merrier. There are many heroes out there who have had their story told many different times, and to have someone like Aretha to have a moment to tell her story more than once, and tell it again and again, is kind of amazing.”
“Genius: Aretha” is the third installment of the Nat Geo anthology series, following two previous seasons starring Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein and Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso. Joining Erivo in the eight-episode series is an ensemble cast including Courtney B. Vance, David Cross, Malcolm Barrett, Patrice Covington, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Sanai Victoria.
Suzan-Lori Parks is showrunner on the new season, with Anthony Hemingway executive producing and directing. The series is set to premiere on May 25.
“Respect,” the Aretha Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson, is set to hit theaters later this year. The film is directed by Tony-nominee Liesl Tommy, and the film follows Aretha’s rise as a singer, first in her father’s church choir, to how she eventually attains international superstardom. Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Skye Dakota Turner, Tate Donovan and Mary J. Blige all co-star in the film.
“We are so excited,” Parks said. “We think the Queen of Soul deserves all the love and attention this world can shower on her. If there were a hundred projects that would be even better. That woman lived an incredible life, and every moment of that life has gifts to give all of us.”
Hemingway pointed to the title of the series as an indication of what to expect from their version that might distinguish it from the film.
“We’re highlighting Aretha’s genius,” he said. “That’s what our eight hours is.”