LOS ANGELES--Civil rights icons Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X only met once, but their coming-of-age stories run parallel in family, community, loss and sacrifice as shown in National Geographic’s anthology series “Genius: MLK/X.” To kick off Black History Month, new weekly episodes on Disney+ and Hulu bring viewers into the homes of the two leaders from their childhood to fatherhood, glimpsing the lives that led up to the historical speeches for which they are known.
“It’s what happens before that and how do we connect and find our relatable parts of ourselves in that," actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. told Reuters of the approach he took to his role as King and Aaron Pierre took to his as X. "So it was a lot of internal work, investigating who we are as men currently, what age and coming of age has meant for us and how that relates to them coming of age as well." King and X met for a brief moment, almost 60 years ago on March 26, 1964, at the U.S. Capitol where they were attending a Senate debate on the Civil Rights Act. They had different approaches, with King advocating a non-violent strategy for multiracial justice and X committed to African Americans achieving freedom “by any means necessary.” “We’ve all been taught or led to believe early on that you had to choose between Malcolm and Martin and so we offered “MLK/X” as an opportunity to see how much we needed both of them,” said executive producer Gina Prince-Bythewood. King and Malcolm X never met again, as both were assassinated at age 39 - Malcolm X in 1965 and King in 1968. Previous "Genius" anthology episodes have focused on Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein. This installment also highlights the impact of the leaders' wives: Coretta Scott King played by Weruche Opia and Dr. Betty Shabazz played by Jayme Lawson. “Too often they are not thought of as part of it and really just the wives of, and they were so much more than that," said Prince-Bythewood who produced the series with husband Reggie Rock Bythewood, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. "To be able to deep dive into their origin stories you really get to see them as women on their own." The show’s crew had a plethora of resources to tap including dual biography about both men "The Sword and the Shield," the 1987 play “The Meeting," and scholars and consultants including Malcolm X’s daughter Ambassador Shabazz. Bythewood was also inspired by a personal memory: seeing Winnie Mandela of South Africa run across the stage to meet Betty Shabazz for the first time where they hugged and cried “like they were long lost sisters.” Pierre said the series gave him deeper insight into family, friendships and love, noting that "they feel tangible," and he hopes viewers will feel the same.