Songstress Aretha Franklin – known to the world as the Queen of Soul – hand-picked Jennifer Hudson to portray her in the new movie titled “Respect.”
Good choice. Jennifer’s talent approaches her own.
J.Hud has received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and two Grammys. Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2020.
Hudson came on the scene in 2004 as a finalist on the third season of American Idol, placing seventh. The then-unknown Chicago singer belted out Franklin’s “Share Your Love With Me” as her audition.
Little did anyone know what a prescient moment that was.
Aretha Franklin had a more traditional rise to fame, singing gospel as a child at her father’s church in Detroit. She broke into secular music at 18, launching a hard-fought career that produced 112 charted singles on Billboard – including 77 Hot 100 entries, 17 Top-Ten pop singles, 100 R&B entries, and 20 number-one R&B singles. In 1987, she was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
“Respect” is the first movie directed by South Africa-born Liesl Tommy. Best known for her stage work, Tommy was the first woman of color nominated for a Tony for Best Direction of a Play. For her film debut, she wanted someone who could actually sing Aretha Franklin’s songs, not just mouth the words.
Jennifer Hudson was a spot-on choice.
However, J.Hud wasn’t Tommy’s choice so much as that she’d been personally selected by the late Aretha Franklin in 2007 to portray her in the movie.
“We originally sat down now almost 20 years ago,” Hudson recalls. “It was right after I won my Oscar for ‘Dreamgirls.’ We met in New York and had a talk about it. There was no script at the time, but she wanted to meet with me. Obviously, we stayed in contact after that. When I was on Broadway, she called me and said, ‘I’ve made my decision, and it’s you, young lady, who I want to play me. But don’t you tell a soul now.’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I won’t.’ I just sit back and think about how much of a blueprint that she’s been in my life and in my career.”
“Respect” is the story of the music icon’s “journey to find her voice.” It traces Franklin’s life, from singing in her father’s church choir to becoming an international musical superstar while enduring an abusive marriage and becoming actively involved in the civil rights movement.
Rotten Tomatoes calls it a “standard-issue biopic,” but the casting rises it above the ordinary.
Forest Whitaker plays Aretha’s controlling preacher father C.L. Franklin. (Note: This is the third movie in which Whitaker has played Jennifer Hudson’s father.)
Marlon Wayans portrays her early manager and abusive first husband, Ted White.
Marc Maron plays pushy Atlantic Records exec Jerry Wexler and Mary J. Blige is outstanding as music diva Dinah Washington.
But it’s Jennifer Hudson who disappears into the role of Aretha Franklin.
“Hudson is the perfect choice to live Aretha Franklin’s story with powerful acting and vocals that sound authentic but not copied,” says Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper.
Observer critic Rex Reed adds, “Jennifer Hudson as Aretha is the whole deal.”
One moviegoer called it “a gobsmacking, Oscar-worthy portrayal of Aretha Franklin.”
Another says, “Jennifer Hudson was phenomenal and deserves an Academy Award. I would definitely see it again.”
“Respect” is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.
“I’m so proud that Ms. Franklin entrusted us to tell her story and to share it with the world,” said Liesl Tommy. “To have this powerhouse group of actors – and the phenomenal talent of Jennifer Hudson in this iconic role – means we have the chance of making this film as transcendent as her glorious life and legacy.”
Here, you will hear J.Hud deliver all those Aretha Franklin standards – “Chain of Fools,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Amazing Grace,” along with the title song.
Aretha Louise Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018, the result of a malignant pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. At her bedside was Steve Wonder, Jesse Jackson, and former husband Glynn Turman – three figures who represent the three phases of her life told in “Respect” – music, civil activism, and her personal relationships.
“When we did the deep dive into her life,” says Hudson, “there were so many things that I realized people didn’t know about her, that made her the powerful presence and the powerful voice that she was. One of those things was her commitment to civil rights, to her father, and to MLK. And then, later on, as we moved into the black power movement, she moved into that movement too. It’s so complex.”
Some critics complain that “it’s just a series of tropes from biopics…” and “rigid with cliché…”
Say what you will, Jennifer Hudson’s starring performance absolutely commands respect. It’s worth the ticket price for the music alone.
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