Disney+ and National Geographic announced today the following casting of the Original Series “Genius: MLK/X,” produced by 20th Television, Imagine Television and Undisputed Cinema: Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Aaron Pierre (“The Underground Railroad”) as Malcolm X, Weruche Opia (“I May Destroy You”) as Coretta Scott King, and Jayme Lawson (“The Batman”) as Betty Shabazz. Principal photography will begin in October 2022 in Atlanta.
“We are beyond excited to have put together the incredible foursome of Kelvin, Aaron, Jayme and Weruche to bring the depth, complexity, and humanity to these indelible icons,” said the Bythewoods. “They are all next level in their chops and their passion to tell this story.”
As previously announced, in a first for the franchise, the new season of the Emmy® Award-winning anthology series will focus on two iconic geniuses: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. “Genius: MLK/X” will explore the formative years, pioneering accomplishments, dueling philosophies and key personal relationships of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Harrison Jr.) and Malcolm X (Pierre). While King advanced racial equality through nonviolent protest, Malcolm X argued forcefully for Black empowerment, identity and self-determination. With their formidable wives, Coretta Scott King (Opia) and Betty Shabazz (Lawson), by their sides, King and Malcolm X became synonymous with the civil rights era and the fight for racial and economic justice. While they met only once and often challenged each other’s views, neither would have been as successful without the other.
In addition to today’s casting news, executive producers Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood announced a think tank of renowned historians and experts serving as production consultants prior to the start of the writer’s room to guide the production, including the following (in alphabetical order):
- Jamal Joseph (“Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention”), formerly a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, is a writer, director and professor of professional practice at Columbia University School of the Arts in the film department.
- Peniel E. Joseph is a writer whose book, “The Sword and The Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.,” serves as inspiration for the series and also serves as a series consultant.
- Michele Norris is a columnist and consultant for Post Opinions and founding director of Peabody Award-winning The Race Card Project.
- Dr. Kameelah Rashad is the founder and president of the Muslim Wellness Foundation (MWF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healing and emotional well-being in the American Muslim community.
- Dr. Barbara Reynolds is an award-winning journalist, author and minister who penned several books, including “Jesse Jackson, America’s David” and “No, I Won’t Shut Up: 30 Years of Telling It Like It Is,” with a foreword by Coretta Scott King.
- Ambassador Shabazz, producer, writer, diplomat and eldest daughter of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X Shabazz, also serves as consulting producer for the series.
- Jeff Stetson, whose play “The Meeting” serves as inspiration for the series, is an internationally acclaimed award-winning playwright and screenwriter for film and television. He also serves as an executive producer on the series.
- Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor at City University of New York, is the author or co-author of eleven books and numerous articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements.
- Pastor Michael A. Walrond, Jr., senior pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church, received numerous honors, accolades and recognitions, including induction into Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers.
“We wanted to assemble a consortium of scholars and experts who can not only lend their extensive knowledge, expertise and research but also create a space for meaningful debate and discussion to ensure an honest portrayal of the complexities of these iconic geniuses. The legacies of Martin and Malcolm are critical to our understanding of the social justice movements of today, so we had to get this right. We could not have asked for a more incredible group to guide us through their stories,” added the Bythewoods.
Additionally, Channing Godfrey Peoples was named as co-executive producer and will direct the pilot episode for “Genius: MLK/X.” Godfrey Peoples made her feature directorial debut with “Miss Juneteenth,” for which she received the coveted National Board of Review Award for Best Directorial Debut and was also recognized with multiple nominations from the Gotham Awards and the Film Independent Spirit Awards, among others. Her television credits include Apple TV+ “Roar” and HBO Max’s “Generation” for directing and OWN’s “Queen Sugar” for screenwriting.
For Imagine Television, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard are executive producers. For Undisputed Cinema, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Francie Calfo are executive producers. Raphael Jackson Jr. and Damione Macedon are showrunners and executive producers. For MWM Studios, Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane serve as executive producers. For EUE/Sokolow, Sam Sokolow is executive producer. Jeff Stetson (“The Meeting”) will pen the pilot and serves as executive producer. Channing Godfrey Peoples will direct and also serve as co-executive producer. Ambassador Shabazz serves as consulting producer.
Harrison Jr. is known for bringing to life some of the most dynamic and diverse characters on screens, both big and small. Harrison has been building an impressive list of leading roles that have garnered SAG and AAFCA Awards and BAFTA, Independent Spirit and Gotham Award nominations. His credits include A24’s “It Comes at Night,” Neon’s “Luce,” the A24 drama “Waves,” Netflix’s Oscar®-nominated “The Trial Of The Chicago 7,” Focus Feature’s “The High Note” and the Joe Wright-directed “Cyrano.” Most recently, he was seen portraying B.B. King in Baz Lurhmann’s “Elvis.” Next, Harrison Jr. stars as the title character in Fox Searchlight’s “Chevalier,” a biopic about the French classical composer and virtuoso violinist Chevalier de Saint-Georges, which will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Additionally, Harrison Jr. will also voice the role of Scar in Barry Jenkin’s prequel of Disney’s “The Lion King.”
Pierre, a graduate of the prestigious LAMDA in London, was nominated for the 2018 Ian Charleson Award for his professional stage debut as Cassio in “Othello,” opposite Mark Rylance at Shakespeare’s Globe. He most recently played Caesar in Barry Jenkins’ award-winning limited series “The Underground Railroad” for Amazon and starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s film “Old,” in which he played a rapper and for which he recorded a song. Pierre’s latest film, “Brother,” Clement Virgo’s adaptation of David Chariandy’s novel, is the story of two Jamaican Canadian brothers whose dreams are dashed by violent reality in 1990s Scarborough. The film recently made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it got rave reviews. Aaron also received the prestigious TIFF Rising Star Award in honor of his body of work. Upcoming, Aaron has recorded the voice of Mufasa in Barry Jenkins’ highly anticipated prequel of Disney’s “The Lion King” and will be the lead role in Jeremy Saulnier’s film “Rebel Ridge” for Netflix. He will also soon be seen in a lead role opposite Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal in Garth Davis’ feature “Foe” for Amazon Studios.
Opia starred as Terry in “I May Destroy You” for HBO in 2019. For her work, Opia received a BAFTA TV nomination for Best Supporting Actress as well as a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Ensemble Cast. Other credits include the limited series “Our House,” “Top Boy” and the BBC hit show Inside “Number 9.” Opia started out on BBC’s half-hour hit comedy “Bad Education” and also starred in the film adaptation. On stage, she starred in “Liberian Girl” at the Royal Court to rave reviews.
Lawson can currently be seen in theaters opposite Viola Davis and Joh Boyega in Sony/Columbia’s “The Woman King.” She appears in MGM/Orion’s “Till” for director Chinonye Chukwu and producer Barbara Broccoli (NYFF premiere) and co-stars opposite Sasha Lane in Daniel Goldhaber’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” which premiered to raves at TIFF and was picked up by NEON for release. Earlier this year, Lawson co-starred as Bella Real in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” for Warner Bros. She made her feature film debut in the Sundance feature “Farewell Amor.”
“Genius” dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, exploring their extraordinary achievements along with their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships. In 2017, National Geographic premiered the first season of the anthology series, which starred Geoffrey Rush as the brilliant scientist Albert Einstein. “Genius: Einstein” earned 10 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series, as well as Golden Globe® and SAG Award nominations for Rush. The follow-up season, “Genius: Picasso,” starred Antonio Banderas as the titular Spanish painter and matched much of the success of its predecessor, earning seven Emmy nominations — and two wins — as well as Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Banderas. The third installment, “Genius: Aretha,” starred Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin and premiered as the most-watched telecast for National Geographic in two years. Erivo received Emmy, Critics Choice and Golden Globe nominations for her critically acclaimed role as the Queen of Soul.
Harrison Jr. is represented by WME, Anonymous Content, Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano Law Firm and Presse PR. Pierre is represented by WME, Anonymous Content, Hamilton Hodell, Sloane Offer Weber & Dern and Narrative. Lawson is represented by UTA, Gang Tyre Ramer Brown & Passman, and Shelter PR. Opia is represented by Curtis Brown, Anonymous Content and Sloan, Offer, Weber & Dern. Godfrey Peoples is represented by CAA, Entertainment 360, and Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.