Art

Long-awaited film on Aretha Franklin’s life released

aretha

Jennifer Hudson acting as Aretha Franklin in Respect movie.

Summary

  • Jennifer Hudson who was personally selected for the role by Aretha before her death in August 2018, delivers a great performance.
  • One of the most exciting scenes in the movie is set in 1967 when Aretha and her studio musicians jam to “Respect”.

The complex life of one of the greatest entertainers of all time, Aretha Louise Franklin, has been turned into a powerful new film that not only celebrates her life as an outstanding singer, songwriter but also reveals her deep personal struggles.

The film, released in August is suitably named “Respect” after Aretha’s best-known song that became an anthem of female empowerment. It assembles a star-studded cast with singer and actress Jennifer Hudson in the lead role as Aretha Franklin, Forest Whittaker as her dad, C.L Franklin, and Marlon Wayans as manager-husband Ted White.

Mary J. Blige appears as Dinah Washington, the 50s singer who inspires Aretha’s early singing career. Aretha was the undisputed Queen of Soul, combining her gospel roots with blues and R&B to create one of the most potent genres in the US and the world over.

As the story shows, the rise of her career happens against the backdrop of the tumultuous civil rights movement in the US, and Aretha played a pivotal role in support of the struggle as her father’s home becomes a meeting point for the leading lights of the movement.

Through her father, she develops an association with Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and other luminaries of the struggle. When Dr King speaks in Rev Franklin’s church, his words resonate with a young Aretha.

When Dr King asks why she wants to join his movement her retort is immediate: “After all the horror we’ve seen, what kind of question is that!” Aretha’s music became the soundtrack for this historic period in America’s history as she joined the fight for social justice, raising millions of dollars to support the cause.

The film starts in 1952 with a young Aretha being dragged out of bed by her father to sing for guests at his home.

“How old is she,” asks one of the guests at the Franklin home. “She is 10 but going on 30,” says another.

As her career rises, she has to chart her path away from a domineering father who negotiates her first recording deal without her knowledge. “I want to sing what I want to sing,” she tells her father when the deal with Columbia Records steers her in the path that is oriented towards jazz.

A turning point is when she clinches a new deal with Atlantic Records and she steps into the studio to record the powerful emotional ballad “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)".

One of the most exciting scenes in the movie is set in 1967 when Aretha and her studio musicians jam to “Respect” taking the original song by Otis Redding, improvising fresh instrumentation and her extraordinary voice that turned the song into a stirring soul record that transcended the racial barrier and stormed the mainstream charts.

When Dr King salutes her contribution to the civil rights movement with a proclamation for a day in her honour, he thunders “I wish every day was Aretha Franklin Day!”. After his assassination in 1968, Aretha pours all her emotion into a powerful gospel tribute at Dr King’s funeral. “When you sing, I feel like you are talking about my life,” says a member of the audience after hearing Aretha sing Carole King’s song “You Make Me Feel Like a (Natural Woman).”

The hits keep coming with “Chain of Fools”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, the lively “Think” and “Spanish Harlem.”

Success is a double-edged sword and the pressures of stardom, the heavy touring schedule, an abusive husband all take their toll on Aretha who responds by turning to alcohol, skipping engagements, and erratic behaviour.

Jennifer Hudson who was personally selected for the role by Aretha before her death in August 2018, delivers a great performance. She combines an understanding of the complicated life of Aretha along with a mastery of music and performance which makes this such a wonderful film.

Aretha won 18 Grammy Awards and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US. She sang “My Country, Tis of Thee” at the Inauguration of Barack Obama as the US President. In 2019, she received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation posthumously.

You don’t have to wait for “Respect” to arrive in movie theatres because it is now available on-demand on streaming services like Prime Video and Apple TV.