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MLK/X’ Team On Bringing Fresh Perspective To Civil Rights Leaders

Executive producers Gina Prince-Bythewood, Reggie Rock Bythewood and co-showrunners Raphael Jackson Jr. and Damione Macedon were at Deadline’s Contenders TV event Saturday to discuss the historical importance of showing Black stories onscreen in the latest season National Geographic’s anthology series Genius.

Season 4 focuses on Civil Rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. (Kelvin Harrison) and Malcolm X (Aaron Pierre) from their formative years, molded by their fathers and racial injustices, to their legendary careers that changed the world.                                      

Undoubtedly, there have been copious amounts of media and examinations on the lives of X and King, the two most pivotal figures in fighting against racial injustices and prejudice. However, Jackson and Macedon went undeterred in trying to find a new way to tell their story in Genius MLK/X.

“We gathered a multitude of historians and people who knew either Martin or Malcolm to give us the behind-the-scenes insight as to who they were as people,” Macedon explained. “I have a degree in history, so I went into this very cocky. I felt like I was going to know exactly who these men are. But about an hour and a half [into these conversations], I realized I didn’t know [certain specific things]. And that was the impetus of the birth of this series, those ‘aha moments.’ We wanted the audience to have several aha moments of the things they didn’t know, accompanied by learning about those two men.”

RELATED: Contenders TV – Deadline’s Full Coverage

Prince-Bythewood also commented on how the show is relevant in today’s society, where recent anti-DEI measurements and the appeal of African American history courses in several states across the country are hindering Black rights. “We are putting this show out at a time where our history is literally under attack, being erased and it’s being rewritten,” she said. “So to be able to tell the story of these two men and women as they reclaim the history and the truth was so imperative to us. Just listening to some of the speeches that they were giving, you could literally give them today. People need to hear those words today.” 

A challenge that came up while creating the series was in balancing historical fact and entertainment, especially when it came to wanting to balance Black hardships and Black resilience. 

“We didn’t want it to feel like a museum piece,” Bythewood said. “We wanted this to be for a contemporary audience. When you deal with stories that have a racial background or historical background, there’s an impetus to treat it like a homework assignment.” 

Macedon added: “We wanted [encapsulate this vibe] by casting a younger version of Martin, Malcolm, Betty [Shabazz] and Coretta [Scott King] because it is this entertainment piece as well. We wanted the audience to see this cast bring these people that we think we know to life, see them in love and see them make mistakes, fall down and get back up. It’s interesting because oftentimes we think of Dr. King or Malcolm X as older, but Dr. King was 26 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott. And we also want to have the audience lean in and see these young people achieve these incredible things. We hope you can watch this and be inspired as well.” 

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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