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RESPECT, the biopic tribute to the immense Aretha Franklin

Job by Alexis Lebrun July 20, 2022

After being delayed for many years while waiting to find the ideal actress for the role, the film devoted to the Queen of Soul was finally able to see the light of day last year thanks to Jennifer Hudson, whose performance and voice allow to RESPECT (Liesl Tommy) to rank at the top of the basket of musical biopics.

Three decades in the life of a legend

Upon her death in August 2018, Aretha Franklin was entitled to the tributes paid to the superlatives reserved for the greatest voices of the twentieth century. They don’t call her “The Queen of Soul” for nothing: beyond her status as a music legend, she is a global icon of popular culture. Suffice to say that when one wishes to adapt to the cinema the life of such a personality so shortly after his death, caution is in order and the undertaking promises to be difficult. The script for RESPECT – co-written by Callie Khouri, Oscar winner in 1991 for THELMA & LOUISE by Ridley Scott –, therefore chooses to focus on the first thirty years of Aretha Franklin’s life, from her birth in 1942 to the release of her legendary live album, AMAZING GRACE (1972).

This already gives a film of nearly two and a half hours, which obviously begins by recalling that this prodigious voice was detected from an early age, when Aretha was singing in the church of her pastor father CL Franklin (Forest Whitaker ). South African director Liesl Tommy – whose first film this is – also looks back on the artist’s difficult beginnings at Columbia and his friendship with Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige), before his rise to the top from her signature at Atlantic in 1966, where she will chain the planetary hits under the leadership of producer Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron), while becoming one of the great voices of social struggles (civil rights in particular) in a country then in turmoil.

RESPECT is a bit wiser when it comes to the traumatic episodes in Aretha Franklin’s life, but it can’t hide the repeated domestic abuse that her husband and manager Ted White (Marlon Wayans) subjected her to during the 1960s. That said, this biopic assumes its choice of wanting above all to pay tribute to the incomparable musical repertoire of the Queen of Soul, which it manages to do quite miraculously thanks to Jennifer Hudson.

Jennifer Hudson, the Queen’s Choice

From the first notes that she hums in the film, we indeed understand why Aretha Franklin herself decided that she would play her on the screen (she was involved in the pre-production of the film before her death). It is said that she made this choice after seeing the actress perform in the musical DREAMGIRLS (Bill Condon, 2006), where she played a member of the Supremes, a role for which she won an Oscar.

So we’ve known for a while that Jennifer Hudson sings divinely well, but her inhabited performance in RESPECT puts her among the best views recently, and she would have well deserved an Oscar nomination this year, since the Academy is crazy about musical biopics which multiply in Hollywood for the past two years, Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) at Ma Rainey (Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman) on Netflix via Tammy FayeJessica Chastain on Disney+, or Judy GarlandRenee Zellweger and Billie Holiday (Andra Day) in theaters.

And if it took a long time to see the biopic on Aretha Franklin come to fruition, her fans were able to wait while enjoying her cameos in the cult THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) and its sequel BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (1998), directed by John Landis. We must not forget either that Aretha was also recently played with great talent by Cynthia Erivo in the third season of the GENIUS series (Suzan-Lori Parks, 2021) on Disney +, but the reference film remains for fans. the documentary-concert AMAZING GRACE (2018), which had never been released before the artist’s death, and for which Sydney Pollack filmed the recording of the famous live album mentioned above in 1972. No one can compete with Aretha Franklin, but Jennifer Hudson is currently the one who best pays tribute to her talent by interpreting her. And just for that, we say RESPECT!

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