The latest season of Disney and National Geographic's Genius docudrama, titled Genius: MLK/X, focuses on two civil rights icons, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
In previous seasons, Genius spotlighted one historical figure, such as Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso.
But for Season 4, the anthology opted for what The Hollywood Reporter described as a chronological "compare and contrast essay," highlighting both the differences and commonalities between the two leaders, along with a supporting cast of historical characters.
The Cast and Characters of Genius: MLK/X
Here is the main cast of Genius: MLK/X with details about each actor and their character:
- Kelvin Harrison Jr. - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Aaron Pierre - Malcolm X
- Weruche Opia - Coretta Scott King
- Jayme Lawson - Betty Shabazz
- Ron Cephas Jones - Elijah Muhammad
- Lennie James - Martin Luther King Sr.
- Gbenga Akinnagbe - Earl Little
- Griffin Matthews - Bayard Rustin
- Donal Logue - Strom Thurmond
- Gary Carr - Clyde X
Kelvin Harrison Jr. - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When tapped to play the visionary civil rights minister and proponent of non-violence, 29-year-old Kelvin Harrison Jr. confessed his hesitancy to Disney, saying, "I haven't lived enough" and expressed "this feeling that [he hadn't] earned it."
What Harrison Jr. has earned in recent years is an impressive list of credits, including the likes of Luce, Elvis, Cyrano, and Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of Chicago Seven.
According to the actor, he eventually accepted the role advised to "lean into" his fears and uncertainty as it would offer "a tangible take on Dr. King:"
"He also was terrified. He also had anxiety, and fear, and a sense of imposter syndrome… They said, ‘Lean into that. That is going to offer us a tangible take on Dr. King.'”
Aaron Pierre - Malcolm X
Best known for his role in 2021's Underground Railroad and M. Night Shyamalan's Old, 29-year-old London native Aaron Pierre has earned positive praise for his portrayal of the charismatic Malcolm X, a spokesman for the Nation of Islam (NOI), a champion of Black empowerment, and his civil rights ideology of "by any means necessary."
While playing Malcolm X was a huge undertaking, Pierre is poised to take on another major role in 2024, namely as the voice of Mufasa, first made famous by James Earl Jones, in Disney's upcoming prequel Mufasa: The Lion King.
Weruche Opia - Coretta Scott King
Genius: MLK/X would not have been able to explore the personal lives and makeup of Dr. King, or the civil rights movement, without the influential Coretta Scott King, played by Weruche Opia.
Born in Nigeria, Opia is best known for I May Destroy You and Bad Education.
Jayme Lawson - Betty Shabazz
To play the wife of Malcolm X, Jayme Lawson told Disney about her research and how Before Betty X, a children's book written by Betty's daughters, is how she "found" her portrayal:
“And the moment I got that book, I said, ‘I found her,’ because I found the little girl. And as a woman, I think we all carry the little girl into every room we walk into.”
To date, and in addition to Genius, the Julliard grad's credits consist of 2022's Till, The Woman King, and The Batman.
Ron Cephas Jones - Elijah Muhammad
Playing the leader of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X's mentor is the Emmy award-winning Ron Cephas Jones.
Unfortunately, Jones passed away in August of 2023 before the release of Genius: MLK/X.
He was known for his roles in This Is Us, Luke Cage, and Across the Universe.
Lennie James - Martin Luther King Sr.
For Genius, Lennie James plays Martin Luther King Sr. who was not just the father of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also a Baptist pastor and early figure of the civil rights movement.
Gbenga Akinnagbe - Earl Little
Playing Earl Little, the father of Aaron Pierre's Malcolm X, is American actor and writer, Gbenga Akinnagbe.
Akinnagbe is best known for The Wire, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Knucklehead.
Griffin Matthews - Bayard Rustin
Cast to play Bayard Rustin, an African-American civil rights activist and proponent of non-violence, is Griffin Matthews.
In addition to playing Shane Edwards in The Flight Attendant, Matthews has also starred in Your Place or Mine and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law as a fashion designer for superhero stars.
Donal Logue - Strom Thurmond
Known for his opposition to civil rights legislation and holding the record for the longest filibuster by a single senator, Strom Thurmond was a senator for South Carolina from 1954 through 2003.
Portraying the senator for Genius: MLK/X is actor Donal Logue who's credits range from Zodiac to 1998's Blade and The Equalizer.
Gary Carr - Clyde X
Actor Gary Carr plays Clyde X, also known as Clyde Rahman, who was a leader for the Nation of Islam throughout the '50s and '60s.
The British star is known for his roles in 21 Bridges, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Downtown Abbey.
The first episode of Genius: MLK/X premieres Thursday, February 1 on ABC. National Geographic will debut two new episodes each Thursday; episodes will be available to stream the following day on Disney+ and Hulu.