Jennifer Hudson Puts “Respect” On Aretha Franklin’s Name – Review
Not many people can say that they were handpicked by a prolific artist to portray them in a movie, but Jennifer Hudson can. Aretha Franklin chose Hudson to bring her narrative to the silver screen and honestly, there’s no one else who could’ve done the role justice. Acting as the lead of a biopic is an undertaking that Hudson never took lightly and her reverence is more than adequately felt in her portrayal of Franklin in Respect.
Featuring an ensemble cast, consisting of Forest Whitaker, Audra McDonald, Mary J. Blige, Marlon Wayans, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Heather Headley, and Marc Maron, the film breathes new life into the story of the Queen of Soul.
Fans of her music will more than likely be knowledgeable of her upbringing and rise to fame, which by no means was a walk in the park. In fact, there’s so much material that could’ve been used to detail Franklin’s life that we could’ve had a TV series created about her and there would still be multiple seasons. So, keeping it to 2 hours and 25 minutes means giving audiences a film that highlights Franklin’s life from the 1950s to 1970s.
Viewers get to observe Franklin’s childhood, where she and her siblings were split between being raised by her father, C. L. Franklin (Whitaker), in Detroit, Michigan and her mother, Barbara Franklin (McDonald), in Buffalo, New York. When in Detroit, her prolific voice was used to entertain her father’s high-profile company, like Clara Ward (Headley) and Dinah Washington (Blige). Whereas in Buffalo, she received musical tutelage and freedom of expression from her mother. This is where actress Skye Dakota Turner, portraying young Aretha Franklin, shows off her impressive vocal ability.
From there, we see the rise of the Queen of Soul, as she navigates family affairs, a dynamic music scene, tumultuous relationships, patriarchy, racism, religion, and her relationship to alcohol. For those new to her story, they’ll find that this film highlights not just the rise of the Queen, but the evolution of a woman who found her voice in the midst of a world that tried to take it away.
While the cast and setting are beautifully shot, director Liesl Tommy (in her feature directorial debut), also captures the essence of U.S. Black culture from the 1950s to 1970s. From church settings, family gatherings, and Civil Rights protests, art imitates life as Franklin’s story unfolds. This is amplified by outstanding costume, hair, and makeup that transport audiences back to a time where soul music reigned supreme.
Speaking of music, audiences will instantly notice beautiful live vocals throughout the film from several actors, including Hudson, Sengbloh, Kilgore, McDonald, Burgess, and Turner. A definite treat comes from the vocals of the leading lady herself. Hudson is known as a powerhouse vocalist and she reaffirms that in every take where she sings. Franklin’s most famous hits being sung by Hudson are sure to give goosebumps to viewers all over, as they watch her sing with such intensity and emotion in each lyric. Even in the faces of the fictional audiences in the movie, you can see that they’re moved by Hudson’s electrifying musical performances.
It isn’t just Hudson’s singing that should be praised, Hudson successfully captures the nuances of Franklin’s walk, stage mannerisms, and accent throughout her acting. Her performance conveys the pain, hope, and determination of a woman looking to persevere in a world where Black women today are still bombarded by intersectional discrimination, in and outside of the studio.
Paired with the talents of Hudson’s co-stars, this film replays what life was like for Black people within the 1950s to 1970s in the U.S. Whitaker, McDonald, and Wayans stand out and the remaining cast follows with solid portrayals of their characters. Yet, what truly shines is the bond of faith, family, and music that the ensemble highlights that feels inarguably Black and soulful. This film is sure to keep critics talking, viewers entertained, and potentially make Hudson an Oscar contender.
The woman with 18 Grammy Awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Kennedy Center Honors, a Pulitzer Prize citation, an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the first woman to do so), and so many more accolades has her legacy further enriched with this amazing film. Aretha Franklin gained adoration, acclaim, success, and most of all, the respect she deserved. This movie is a testament to that. A must-see of the summer. A must-see of this time.