<I>Genius: MLK/X</I> editor Libya El-Amin
Issue: January/February 2024

Genius: MLK/X editor Libya El-Amin

National Geographic’s Genius: MLK/X follows Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X from their formative years to their rich, parallel stories as they shape their identities and become the change they wish to see in the world.

The eight-episode series features rising stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Aaron Pierre as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, respectively, and was edited, in part, by Libya El-Amin, who calls it one of her most personal projects to date.

The daughter of two parents in the Nation of Islam, El-Amin worked on Episodes 2 (Who We Are) and 6 (The American Promise), and was already highly aware of the intricacies that went into the men’s relationship. The show premiered February 1st, with episodes streaming on both Disney+ and Hulu.

El-Amin is no stranger to shaping stories about the African-American experience, having previously cut episodes of Peacock’s Bust Down, starring Sam Jay and Chris Redd, as well as Hulu’s Kindred, which was inspired by the seminal novel from Octavia E. Butler. The latter show was particularly exciting for her, as her passion for science fiction and fantasy runs deep. 

El-Amin began her career as a chemical engineer, simply splicing together her favorite TV shows with her favorite songs. She discovered a knack for editing along the way, and pursued her passion for storytelling all the way to a career in Hollywood. Here she shares insight into her work on Genius: MLK/X.

Libya, how did you get involved with Genius: MLK/X?

“When I heard that Genius: MLK/X was happening, I was very excited to be a part of this project. My parents were both in the Nation of Islam, and I spent my childhood hearing stories about Malcolm and Martin in a way that is not common. My father spoke of how the messages of Malcolm and Martin became more aligned later in their lives. He used to play Martin’s speeches from later in his career that were rarely played in popular media. I went into the interview with a clear idea of the goal of this series and a unique point of view from most editors.”

Can you talk about your editing set up and some of the techniques you employed?

“I primarily use Avid Media Composer to cut long-form, scripted projects, like television series. As far as specific techniques, every editor has a tool kit of effects they use to address picture or story problems. Split screens and push-ins are pretty common, however, there was one scene that took so long to shoot that important coverage was shot at night, and I had to get it to match the day. I got a little creative without really using VFX (night for day VFX is very difficult to pull off). I’ll let you guys pick it out.”

Can you talk a bit about the two episodes you worked on?

“I was fortunate enough to work on Episodes 402 (Who We Are) and 406 (The American Promise). Episode 402 deals with both MLK and Malcolm very early in their careers, and the trick was to be able to show their vulnerabilities but also see the scope of the trajectory in which they headed. The most daunting aspect of cutting episode 406 is that it dealt with one of the biggest events in history, The March on Washington. I had to be able to convey the weight of the moment and still hit the small character beats.”

Are there any sequences from the shows that stand out from an editing standpoint?

“The most complex scene I worked on was the actual speech MLK delivered during the March on Washington. We intercut several characters absorbing the speech, including Malcolm X. There is hardly any dialogue from the speech itself because the moment is so well known. Blending stock footage from the actual march with what we shot in a way that felt seamless was a massive endeavor.”

You’ve worked on a number of shows that reflect the African-American experience?

“I loved working on Kindred (based on Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novel), because of the depth of the story and main characters, especially Dana — her growth as a person, as she is forced to go from her life in the current day to pretending to be a slave in the 19th century. It dealt with emotionally-dark moments, yet still had a touch of humor and affection between Danan and Kevin. I really stretched my storytelling muscles in a surprising way with the series. And the collaboration with showrunner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins really elevated the show in unexpected ways.”

What are some of your favorite shows?

“Why would you ask me such a difficult question in this golden age of television? I could list the shows that everyone loves, like Breaking Bad, Ted Lasso, etc. Don’t get me wrong, those shows were a game changer, but I think I’ll go with genre shows that let my geek flag fly. In the last few years, the outstanding genre shows for me were Foundation, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, The Last of Us and Severance. And if we are going old school, then it’s Battlestar Galactica (2003), Babylon 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

What can we expect to see from you next?

“I'm about to start a feature looking at the intimate nature of Americans and their guns. It is a deep character piece that I can’t wait to craft into something beautiful.”