The life of the late singing legend will be depicted in the NatGeo limited series, which airs this week with Cynthia Erivo in the lead role, but her relatives insisted their attempts to work with programme makers have been snubbed and they called on fans to boycott the show.
Aretha’s granddaughter, Grace Franklin, said in a video shared to TikTok: “As the immediate family, we feel that it’s important to be involved with any biopic of my grandma’s life, as it’s hard to get any accurate depiction of anyone’s life without speaking to the ones closest to them.
“During the process of writing, directing, and filming this movie, we’ve reached out to Genius as a family on multiple occasions where we have been disrespected and told we will not be worked with.
“As the immediate family emphasis on immediate we do not support this film and we ask that you also do not support this film, as we feel extremely disrespected, and we feel there will be many inaccuracies about my grandmother’s life.”
Grace’s message echoes comments recently made by her father, Kecalf Franklin, who suggested the series could be based on “untruth or slander”.
He told Rolling Stone magazine: “What we’ve found out in the past is that usually when people don’t want to work with you, that is a prelude to some type of unprofessional behavior or a prelude to some type of untruth or slander, so we’re not quite sure where we’re going to see in this series.
“That’s usually the case when people say that they don’t want to work with you.”
Production on ‘Genius’ began in 2019, less than a year after the Queen of Soul died of cancer and Kecalf explained communication between the family and NatGeo ended after his cousin, Sabrina Garrett-Owens, resigned from her post as representative of Aretha’s estate.
And by the time she left her position, the family and the network hadn’t reached an agreement on their involvement in the series, but when the relatives attempted to put something in place, Kecalf claimed their approaches were rejected.
He said: “We had our lawyers reach out to them and see if we could have some type of input and see the film and say what we like and what we didn’t like about it.
“And the report that we got back was saying that it was too late, production had already wrapped up and that they didn’t want to work with us. It was basically too late.
“It seems as if the final editing hadn’t been done, that there was something that could have been done in that area, maybe after we had previewed it. They did send a non-disclosure agreement but the terms in that contract, they weren’t giving us creative control or anything like that as well. So it’s kind of like they just wanted us to check it out. But if we didn’t like it then, ‘Oh well. Sorry.’”
NatGeo insisted they have told Aretha’s story in an “honest and authentic way” and share the “goal” of the family to “celebrate” the ‘Natural Woman’ hitmaker.
They said in a statement: “We think we have a shared goal here – to honour and celebrate the life and legacy of Aretha Franklin. We can tell you that everyone who worked on ‘Genius: Aretha’ approached telling her story with the intention to respect Ms. Franklin in every aspect of the series and in every decision we made. The studio worked diligently to attain the endorsement of Aretha’s estate, which we are grateful to have.
“We worked with many people who knew Ms. Franklin — from Clive Davis to members of her family’s estate to make sure we told her story in an honest and authentic way.”