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‘Respect’ Shows Aretha Franklin’s Trials & Successes

Hey, Hollywooders! What’s Good in the ‘Wood? I went to a movie theater near me to see Respect on opening night (Friday, August 13).

I took a look at theaters near me to compare movie showtimes and settled on going to the 2:55 p.m. movie showtime at the Showcase Cinemas near me.

The theater was slightly busier than I would have expected it to be for a Friday afternoon, but everyone was still spread out enough that I felt safe and comfortable. If you’re planning on heading to the movie theater soon be sure to protect yourself and check out our guide for safely returning to theaters.

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Respect tells the beautiful story of a music icon

Respect is a musical drama about the early life and career of Aretha Franklin. The movie marked director Liesl Tommy’s feature directorial debut. In an interview with Collider Liesl said that though this was an intimidating first project, she fell in love with all of its elements and “knew that [she] was in the right place doing the exact right movie that [she] should be making.”

From the beginning of Respect, I was completely drawn in and knew that the story I was watching for the next two and a half hours would be spectacular. The film starts off strong, giving a look at Aretha Franklin’s childhood and her love for music and singing that developed at an early age.

In a sweet scene with young Aretha (Skye Dakota Turner) and her mom (Audra McDonald) sitting at the piano exchanging pleasantries through song, we see her mom tell Aretha to never let anyone else try to control the beautiful gift that is her voice. This is the difficult task that Aretha struggles with throughout the remainder of the movie.

At an early age, the audience sees Aretha Franklin has a desire to please others and a tendency to bottle in her feelings. Because of this, Aretha must learn to stand up for herself and take control of her life and career. At the same time, she must overcome the trauma that she experienced in her childhood and try not to relive her parents’ mistakes.

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When Aretha Franklin starts to call her own shots, her career begins to flourish. What fans didn’t see at the time, however, is that she was grappling with stepping away from her family and was stuck in an abusive marriage. While all of this was happening, she faced the trials of being a young Black woman at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

After constant ups and downs in Aretha’s life and career, the audience finally sees her living for herself rather than her father or a man, making the decisions she wants to make and following her own passions.

Jennifer Hudson gave an exceptional performance as Aretha Franklin

After watching Jennifer Hudson portray Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, I could not imagine anyone else in this role. Her voice sounded amazing in the musical numbers (as expected), but at some points in the film, I truly forgot that I was watching an actress and not actually seeing the real life of Aretha Franklin unfold before my eyes.

According to WBUR, Jennifer Hudson was “hand-picked” by Aretha Franklin prior to her passing to portray her in the biopic. In an interview with the outlet, Jennifer spoke of how the film shares Aretha’s legacy saying, “…I think that’s the beauty in the film as well, when people get to see her musicianship, her artistry, her as a vocalist and her as the beautiful human being that she was.”

I found Jennifer Hudson’s most moving performances to be the musical numbers, specifically those where Aretha was creating and experimenting to find her sound. These scenes were not only memorable because of Jennifer’s singing, but mostly because of the way that they lined up with the events that were occurring in Aretha’s personal life at those times. They reflected her true feelings and signaled moments of growth.

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There are multiple examples of Jennifer Hudson’s amazing acting in these musical scenes. In an Alabama recording studio, the audience sees one of the first times that Aretha has a hand on the steering wheel when it comes to creating her music and discovering her sound. In this scene, Aretha sits at the piano and develops “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” with other musicians surrounding her and the way the music comes together is almost magical.

Similarly, we see Aretha create her version of “Respect” (which was originally recorded by Otis Redding). We see her dancing to the original version with her sons, then she comes up with the idea to do her own version with her sisters. The scene of the Franklin sister recording the song with the band is so joyful and signals a turning point in Aretha’s career.

Jennifer Hudson brought so much heart and emotion to these scenes, often leaving me with goosebumps from how stunning her performances were.

Watching Respect, I learned so much about Aretha Franklin that I would have never known otherwise

When I think of Aretha Franklin, I think of hits like “Respect” and “Freedom” and the critical acclamations that made her the Queen of Soul. Respect gives a huge look at Aretha’s life behind the scenes and the obstacles that I would have never known she had to face.

Just in the first few scenes, the film goes from overwhelmingly sweet to heartbreaking and we get a look at the hardships Aretha had to face before her career even began. I don’t want to give any of this away as I think the shock in some of these occurrences adds to how moving Aretha’s story is, so you’ll have to watch Respect yourself to see what I’m talking about.

Prior to seeing Respect, I hadn’t even known how involved Aretha Franklin was in the Civil Rights Movement. She was family friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. and she and her father even toured the country with him to preach and perform.

In an emotional moment where Aretha stands up to her father about no longer remaining quiet when it comes to fighting for her liberties. She decides to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement on her own, saying “You need to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace.”

I also had no idea that the Gospel album Amazing Grace that Aretha Franklin released in 1972 was such a turning point in both her life and career. At this point in the film, Aretha turns to her faith to get her out of the hole she has found herself in. She demands to her record label that the album gets made and that she’s the producer. This leads to Aretha finding her way back to her roots, with a Church performance of “Amazing Grace” that brought me to tears.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Respect and recommend it to anyone looking for a new movie to see in theaters (just make sure you bring tissues). Whether you’re a music fan or not, have listened to Aretha Franklin for years or only know a few songs, I think her story is impactful and it’s important to see how she reached the iconic status that she will forever hold in music history.

Want to know what other movie-goers are saying about Respect? Check out what everyday audience members thought about the film. 

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