RESPECT: Celebrating Aretha Franklin’s Memory
September 2021 Issue
Reel Corner by Donne Paine
Celebrating Aretha Franklin’s Memory
There has been a lot of press about Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, and RESPECT, the film of her life and the demons that clung to her. Nothing quite prepares you for the film’s presence of Jennifer Hudson’s portrayal of her; she is an amazing talent!
Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Mary J. Blige,
Marlon Wayans, Skye Dakota Turner
Director: Liesl Tommy
Following the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career from a child singing in her father’s church choir to her international superstardom, RESPECT is the remarkable true story of the music icon’s journey to find her voice.
RESPECT begins with a 9-year-old Aretha (Turner) just starting to understand her gifts. “Re”, as she is called, lives with her father C.L Franklin (Whitaker), who is a celebrated minister and civil rights activist. Raised in a middle-class home, Aretha’s father entertained Motown elite and many well-known civil rights activists. Her mother was absent most of the time, leaving the maternal duties to her grandmother. Aretha had several siblings, but Aretha’s father singled her out, promoted her and provided coaching and mentoring. Everyone looked forward to hearing this angel sing, as her father had her perform at his church services and family parties.
The writers and director make a delicate, but undeniable, reference to a childhood rape at age 12, hinting blame to a frequent visitor to the Franklin home. Also absent from the film is the reason why Aretha’s mother lives elsewhere and visits infrequently. The rape is the origin of Aretha’s demons. Then the script of the film skips ahead to the years when she (now played by Hudson) begins pushing back against her controlling father, as well as her husband, Ted (Wayans), as her career begins to develop.
Hudson, an Oscar winner for “Dreamgirls”, calibrates her performance with lovely subtlety. Hudson seamlessly and realistically embodies the transition of Aretha’s journey from a shy church singer, to a rebellious young women, to a confident musician and civil rights activist.
The film’s fundamental structure is primarily a collection of significant scenes that center around a beloved song. The director introduces each one with the place and date, so we swiftly travel from Detroit 1959 to New York 1963 to Muscle Shoals, Alabama 1967.
The rock solid cast supports Hudson each with their own vivid moment; there isn’t one weak link in the cast. And then there is the hair, make-up and fashion designers who match each year with meticulous precision to transform Hudson into a very believable Aretha.
At the center of it all, of course, is Hudson. It’s a joy to watch her perform with her transformation from a shy preacher’s daughter to a Queen, and it’s no surprise that the film’s essential moments are its musical ones. Many well-known performers are on this movie soundtrack. And yes, Aretha’s classics like “Respect” and “Natural Woman” are sung. The movie isn’t perfect, but even when it stumbles, Hudson’s bravura performance, and those extraordinary songs, steady its soul.
References: www.freep.com, www.imbd.com, www.thewrap.com
Donne Paine, film enthusiast, once lived around the corner from the Orson Welles Theater in Cambridge Massachusetts, where her strong interest in films, especially independent ones, began. Supporter of the arts, especially films, she travels to local and national film festivals, including Sundance, Toronto and Tribeca. There is nothing like seeing a film on the big screen. She encourages film-goers to support Hilton Head local theaters; Coligny Theater, Park Plaza Theater and Northridge. To support her habit of frequent movie going, Donne is a travel medicine nurse consultant. See you at the movies!