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Genius: MLK/X Fails Legacies of Civil Rights Leaders | TV/Streaming


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Before they take on the roles of Mufasa and Scar in Barry Jenkins’ upcoming “The Lion King” prequel, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Aaron Pierre share the screen as Dr. King and Malcolm X. Apart from trying to get a read on how they would sound as their Lion counterparts, their efforts to embody the proactive spirits of their respective figures are commendable but ultimately miscast. Continuing “Genius”‘s downward trajectory in getting skilled performers for the wrong assignment following Cynthia Erivo’s fervent but ultimately miscast performance as Aretha Franklin, “MLK/X” offers two for the price of one, with neither party resembling their counterparts outside of stature and demeanor. Pierre’s calm, sullen voice channels much of X’s studious conduct. Yet a simple close-up shot of X’s widened-when-it-should-be-infamously-beady eyes is far too distracting to make his Malcolm convincing. The same goes for Harrison Jr., for the shoddy makeup department has him resemble a younger Steve Harvey than he does MLK. 

The instances in which Pierre and Harrison Jr. overcome their plights are not in protest organization meetings or on a podium making speeches, but when the focus is on the inner lives they led with their spouses. “MLK/X” offers a refreshing perspective by illuminating the love King had with Coretta Scott King (Weruche Opia) and X did with Betty Shabazz (Jayme Lawson). The two figures’ romantic, joyous sides, often overlooked in media, are the only unique angles the series provides. 

The truth is that MLK and Malcolm X are far too significant to combine into a single mini-series format. Structurally, “MLK/X” plays a game of hot potato, constantly throwing back and forth every highlight moment from the King and X’s lives from youth to adulthood. The rough opening episode focuses on the separate yet similar youths they led as kids living under Jim Crow laws. The parallels and contradictions feel forced by a mini-series forced to cram too much into its structure. And the need to hit the well-known moments in these lives leads to multiple recreations of pivotal protests, watered down tonally while still leaving room for shocking imagery of Black pain. 

Having the same precision as a high schooler combining two Wikipedia pages to influence his research essay for history, the writing seems more concerned with dramatizing notable moments in their lives with an emphasis on their legacies, preventing them from ever feeling like people from a writing standpoint. As the team behind “Genius” tries to tackle the minutiae of the relationships they shared with their families or spouses, all the dialogue boils down to a repetitious flow where someone close to MLK or X gives them a pep talk discussing why their power is so significant when their spirits are low. 

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by Xtreme HD IPTV

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