“Respect” for Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in new biopic

-Brenda Hillegas

Respect is what Aretha Franklin deserves and in the biopic, Respect, in theaters today, you’ll see just how the Queen of Soul earned her titled as one of the most influential vocalists in music history. Getting to the top wasn’t easy and this new movie, starring the spectacular Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson as Miss Franklin herself, shows viewers what she went through to become the icon we all know her as today.

The movie unfolds during Aretha’s childhood. We watch as she gets her start singing in her father’s church choir, her dream to make hit records, and gain independence. Along the way, we see her struggles with an abusive marriage, substance abuse, and her involvement in the civil rights movement (Dr. King was a Franklin family friend). We get a behind-the-scenes look at her recording sessions with Columbia, Atlantic (along with a trip to Fame Records to record with Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section), and her live-church recording of the Amazing Grace album.

Respect shows audiences Aretha’s rise to international superstar status, but without someone as talented and dedicated to the role as Jennifer Hudson clearly is, this movie would likely fall flat. Her passion is obvious and I got chills watching her in every scene. Resisting the urge to clap and shout after any of her musical numbers was difficult. Just wow. You need to see Jennifer in this performance. She truly became Aretha Franklin.

Behind Respect is an exceptional creative team and cast. Liesl Tommy makes her feature film directorial debut (she became the first woman of color to be nominated for the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for 2017’s Eclipsed) with the screenplay written by Tracey Scott Wilson (a Temple University grad). Fellow Oscar winner Forest Whitaker portrays Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin. The cast includes Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Marc Maron, Tate Donovan, and Mary J. Blige. Everyone on screen interacts so seamlessly with Hudson and though I’m sure much research and effort when into portraying so many of these real-life people, the entire cast is made up of actors who take these roles seriously. For the runtime of the movie, you’ll be taken into Aretha’s world and viewing it through her eyes. Anyone who loves movies based on the music history of America or just biopics in general will want to see Respect.

It felt like I was in the middle of awards season as I stepped out of the theatre. If Jennifer Hudson doesn’t get a nomination for this movie, something went terribly wrong. Jennifer’s voice (and Aretha’s voice) deserve your time, so please see Respect. Stay through the credits to see footage of the actual Aretha Franklin and learn more about her life and career.

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