Cast and Creatives Behind Nat Geo's "Genius: MLK/X" On The Civil Rights Trail Blazers' Legacy (VIDEO)

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National Geographic's Emmy-winning biographical anthology series Genius returns for its fourth installment, chronicling the lives of civil rights trail blazers Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in Genius: MLK/X, which premieres its first two episodes tonight on National Geographic.

In an interview with the cast and creative team, executive producers Gina Price-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood revealed that Nat Geo initially planned to center its fourth season solely on Reverend King, but they felt there was more to the story.

"We felt in this day and age, you don't get to have Martin without Malcolm," Reggie shared. "They embraced that notion and we presented this narrative where we do two sides of the coin and really look at the contrast and comparisons and alignment with Martin and Malcolm."

"In telling these dual narratives, and really there's four with Betty and Coretta, that's what would see this apart and allow us to tell a little different story," Gina added. "We had great collaborators with our showrunners Damione Macedon and Raphael Jackson and two source materials that were influential, The Sword and The Shield by Peniel E. Joseph and The Meeting by Jeff Stetson which is a fictional telling of a meeting between Dr. King and Malcolm X.

"We learned more through the research that we did about how many parallels there were, not just in the iconic moments we know about but in their personal lives: the way they were brought up, their love stories, their family lives, their struggles with mental health. The more we found out, the more truth that was revealed made the narrative of putting these two together more and more exciting."

Equally as important in the series was the inclusion and amplification of Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz, played by Weruche Opia and Jayme Lawson, respectively, who not only supported and fought alongside their husbands, but whose own struggles and challenges were brought to light in MLK/X. Going into the series, the actresses knew well the impact and legacy each of their characters carries and were honored to take on the challenge while honoring the strong women who raised them.

"The privilege of bringing Dr. Betty Shabazz out of this one dimension and giving her this full complexity, I naturally gravitated to it," said Lawson. "I have a lot of strong women in my life who helped me to pull from that level of resilience and quiet power."

"To show the multidimensional life of Black women, I come from a line of very strong women," Opia added. "Getting the opportunity to portray one as strong as Coretta Scott King was an honor and a privilege. Just to be involved in it kinda solidifies me as a strong, soft woman. I'm not trying to be strong all the time. There's a multidimensional-ness to being strong and soft," she laughed.

Titular star Kelvin Harrison Jr. shared that, while honored to be given the opportunity to play Reverend King, he nearly turned it down but changed his mind when the creative team said his hesitation was exactly why he was right for the role. "I'm so grateful for what [Reverend King] represents to this country, he's the reason why I'm here right now, he's the reason why any person of color is able to thrive in this country.

My initial reaction was, because of that, 'I do not want to participate'," he laughed. "I thought there'd be someone more courageous or put-together to play this man and I felt this sense of imposter syndrome and expressed that to the executive producers. They said 'that's exactly what we need. That's what Dr. King was experiencing.' I had to do some self-work and humble myself and say 'yes'."

There is a long list of incredible actors who have portrayed Dr. King over the years, from Jeffrey Wright in Boycott and David Oyelowo in Selma to Anthony Mackie in All The Way and Samuel L. Jackson in The Mountaintop on Broadway, to name a few.

When asked about pulling inspiration from these previous performances, Harrison had this to say. "In order to the tell the truth of a man, or the understanding of what it means to be a man, is unique, it's an individual exploration so I had to figure out what it means to be a young man. I realized in all of these portrayals, most of [the actors] were older than me and I always perceived Dr. King to be older than me and that all of these things that happened to me were so beyond. But a lot of them happened before he was 30. All of them happened before he was 39! I need to take the time to investigate myself and find our commonalities and throughline between our lives and share that on-camera."

Genius: MLK/X premieres its first two episodes tonight on National Geographic with two episodes airing every Thursday all month long. Episodes will be available to stream on Hulu and Disney+.

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