The Queen of Soul’s legacy comes to the big screen in Respect from MGM studios. Liesel Tommy directs Jennifer Hudson as the iconic Aretha Franklin in the remarkable true story that follows Franklins life from a child singing in her father’s church choir to her rise to international superstardom. Tracey Scott Wilson’s script first introduces us to Aretha as a child, portrayed by the very talented Skye Dakota Turner as a vocal prodigy. What I enjoyed about the youth scenes of Aretha was that it gives us an essence of how Mrs. Franklin’s childhood would play a part in her later life.
At around the thrifty five-minute mark of the film, Hudson steps into the role and does so with grace. Hudson was the personal choice by the Queen of Soul herself for the part. Thus, she portrays the role with a natural grace and elegance, including some great singing. Hudson knows just how iconic the role is and does her best to pay homage to Mrs. Franklin. Assisting Hudson in bringing Franklin’s life story to the screen are notable names such as Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Titus Burgess, and Marc Maron.
Whitakers portrays Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin, while Wayans plays Aretha’s first husband, Ted White. Whitaker brings his usual commanding screen presence to the role. However, Wayans is a highlight as the comedian gets a chance to show off his underrated dramatic range. Concurrently, Titus Burgess does what he can in the role of the King of Gospel, while Maron has some great moments as the legendary Jerry Wexler. Music naturally plays a part in Respect, and some of the best scenes in the film showcase Franklin creating her classic tunes. I also enjoyed Kris Bowers’ score for the film.
However, per the norm, Respect does fall into the typical biopic clichés. We see the rise of Aretha, her sexual abuse, and her eventual struggle with alcohol. However, the intent of Tracey Scott Wilson’s script may have been to avoid Black Trauma; as outside of the alcohol abuse, the negative moments are only briefly touched on. Furthermore, music legends such as Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson were so short, that if you had have blinked you missed the moments in the film, and we don’t get much of an idea about their relationship. Thankfully though, the connections Aretha had with Martin Luther King Jr. (Gilbert Glenn Brown) and Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige) receive the right amount of attention.
Given the long-running career of Mrs. Franklin, there are some omissions from her catalog not covered in the film. I would’ve loved a brief scene showing Aretha meeting Curtis Mayfield to record the Sparkle soundtrack, however in context; the scene may not have fit. Nevertheless, when the credits rolled on Respect, I had a smile on my face and learned a few new things about the Queen of soul.
Final Grade: B
Respect opens in theaters today