Respect is a biographical musical directed by Liesl Tommy (in her feature directorial debut). Respect is written by Tracey Scott Wilson, Callie Khouri, and is based on the life of “Queen of Soul” singer, Aretha Franklin. The film follows the first two decades of Aretha’s life, from being born as a musical prodigy in an affluent but controlling African-American family to her arduous rise to international musical stardom, while simultaneously enduring an abusive marriage. In April of 2018, National Geographic renewed their series called Genius for a third season, focusing on Aretha Franklin. It aired in March 2021. My goal is to see both of these stories. So far, this version (Respect) turns out to be very good.
Respect includes the effect of Aretha losing her mother at the age of ten, her controlling father who managed her career, constraints of patriarchy, and ultimately concluding with the recording of her influential live album Amazing Grace in 1971. In 1952, ten-year-old Aretha Franklin (Jennifer Hudson) lives with her Baptist pastor father, C. L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker), as well her sisters Erma (Saycon Sengbloh), the oldest, and Carolyn (Hailey Kilgore) the youngest, in Detroit, Michigan. The sudden death of her mother Barbara Siggers Franklin (Audra McDonald) traumatizes Aretha and as a result, she is unwilling to speak until her father forces her to sing at church after weeks of silence.
By 1959, a teenage Aretha is the mother of two children. She then meets Ted White (Marlon Wayans), a local producer, at a party at her father’s house. The two strike up a conversation before being interrupted by C. L., who warns Ted to stay away from his family. Later, C. L. surprises Aretha with tickets to New York for a meeting with Columbia Records executive John Hammond (Tate Donovan). After being offered a contract, Aretha begins to sing jazz records with Columbia, including “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.”
Four albums later, Aretha still lacks a signature hit as a jazz singer. After singing a tribute to longtime family friend Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige), Aretha is told to find songs that move her and stop trying to fit the polished image her father wants her to display. Aretha reunites with Ted White, with whom she begins a relationship and later marries. Frustrated by her lack of success after nine albums, Aretha begins skipping recording sessions to see Ted, embarrassing her father. Much to the chagrin of her sisters and the dismay of their father, Aretha returns home and introduces Ted to her family announcing him as her new manager.
Respect didn’t really focus on Aretha’s sexual endeavors but did manage to let us know she had a child at the age of twelve (1955) with a childhood friend and schoolmate named Donald Burke. The child was named after her father, Clarence. She then had a second child with another childhood friend named Edward Jordan at the age of fourteen (1957). Later it was established both boys were Edward’s. She was married twice and had two more sons. Initially, a film on Franklin’s life was in development for a long time and she herself was involved with the pre-production. Because of a lack of suitable candidates to play Aretha, and eventually the Covid pandemic, the film was buried. After seeing the musical film Dreamgirls in 2006, Aretha asked Jennifer Hudson to play her. The film began production in 2019.
I thoroughly enjoyed Respect. I learned some new information about the singer and marveled at Jennifer Hudson’s portrayal of Aretha Franklin, which received critical acclaim. Aretha herself said that Hudson would win an Oscar for portraying her. Forest Whitaker was brilliant as Aretha’s overbearing, abusive, womanizing, and cheating father. The film suggested in a very short rape scene, that her father may have sexually abused her but didn’t elaborate on it. The music seemed better than it was back in the day. That’s probably due to today’s technology. Jennifer Hudson usually comes off as a real diva but at the rate, she’s acting and singing I can’t say I blame her. She herself is a prodigy. I can see why Aretha picked Jennifer to play her. The film never revealed why Aretha’s mother, Barbara left her father but I found that he had a child with a twelve-year-old in 1940 which was before Aretha was born but had two more children while still married to Barbara. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 66% based on 170 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “This standard-issue biopic falls shy of its subject’s transcendent brilliance, but Jennifer Hudson’s starring performance absolutely commands Respect.” As of September 27, 2021, Respect has grossed $24.1 million in the United States and Canada, and $7.1 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $31.2 million. Pete Hammond of Deadline also praised Hudson’s performance, saying; “This is Jennifer Hudson’s triumph merged with the spirit and guidance from an even greater voice above. Hudson’s performance is an electrifying sight to behold.” Respect is available to rent and is streaming on Amazon Prime and can probably still be found in some theaters. Check It Out!