August 2, 2021

an exhaustive fresco for a queen of soul


The first two seasons of the series Genius, commissioned by the National Geographic channel, a subsidiary of the Disney group, were devoted to Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso – archetypes of genius as defined by Western tradition: male demiurge, solitary discoverer, young revolutionary who became, with age, the object of universal reverence.

Aretha Louise Franklin, subject of the third season, which ends Friday July 2, meets only the last of these criteria: at the time of her death, on August 16, 2018, at 76 years old, the whole world mourned the “queen soul “. For the rest, Aretha Franklin is as much an heir (of the great gospel singers, Mahalia Jackson or Clara Ward, among others) as a pioneer, more a performer than an author, an artist eternally tormented by a doubt that also pushed her. well towards the summits than at the bottom of aesthetic dead ends.

Marked by tragedy

This unpredictable trajectory also merges with the African-American history of the second half of the 20th century.e century, from the last years of segregation to the election of Barack Obama, including the civil rights movement. If we add that, from childhood to old age, the fate of Aretha Franklin – daughter, mother, sister, lover, wife, matriarch – is marked by tragedy, we will have an idea of ​​the formidable material from which it is is seized the creator of the series, Suzan-Lori Parks, also author of the scenario of the recent Billie Holiday: a matter of state.

By a dislocating effect, Aretha Franklin’s truth vanishes when it was thought to be caught.

No doubt because she had almost eight hours of story before her, perhaps because she could not choose between the infinite possibilities of her protagonist, Suzan-Lori Parks strives for completeness. The wealth of resources at her disposal, the quality of the interpretation – starting with the work of the British actress and singer Cynthia Erivo in the title role – allow Genius : Aretha to find, especially in the first episodes, its fresco character. But the juxtaposition of private tragedies and artistic tribulations, militant commitment and star whims, also produces a dislocating effect that makes Aretha Franklin’s truth vanish when it was thought to be caught.

If there is one pivot around which the singer’s existence has revolved, it is her relationship with her father, the Reverend CL Franklin (Courtney B. Vance). Pastor originally from the South, soon established in Detroit following the great migration to the north, Reverend Franklin was an outstanding preacher who traveled the country in the company of the best gospel artists. He also multiplied the female conquests, thus causing the departure of the mother of the young Aretha, and used the precocious vocal talent of the second of his daughters to attract the crowds, without caring much for little Aretha who, at 14, was already a mother twice.

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