As the countdown is on toward the release of “Respect,” the movie starring Jennifer Hudson as singer Aretha Franklin, supporters assure that this isn’t a repeat of March’s National Geographic biographical series on the same artist. They insist it’s something deeper. It’s about holding onto a religious faith.
“I feel that Black men and women of faith have been stereotyped in film for so long,” said “Respect” director Liesl Tommy. “Our faith is not a joke, it’s not a punchline. It’s what has gotten us to this minute since Black people came to this land.”
Tommy joined last week’s panel in a discussion of the movie and its portrayal of Aretha Franklin’s religious journey. They all agreed that Franklin, being a Black woman, was part of the most religious demographic in America and that her faith was part of her career.
“She was one of us,” panel emcee Chanice Benbow said. “A bonafide church girl who took her faith … she took it wherever she went.”
Hudson, 39, who has an Oscar on her mantel for her performance in “Dreamgirls,” was part of the conversation. She became friends with Franklin soon after that movie. Before Franklin’s 2018 death, she hand-picked Hudson to play her in the bio film. Hudson hopes her talent and faith resembles that of “The Queen of Soul.”
“Clearly it was her calling from birth,” Hudson said of Franklin’s musical abilities, which took her from her pre-teen days, singing in her father’s church, through the Civil Rights movement, through proclaiming the need for “Respect,” a song dubbed the “Black girl magic anthem.” by the panelists.
“She had a gift. She was anointed,” Hudson said. “That anointing covers all.”
The movie was set to debut a year ago, but was stalled for theatrical release four times due to the pandemic. It was, in fact, due to be released before the National Geographic series. But Tommy and Hudson are not disturbed by any competition. They believe Franklin’s life was so full of talent that it could be told in many ways.
“It was her calling, her duty, and she lived it until the day she died,” Hudson said of Franklin’s interweaving of talent and faith. “She was able to carry that everywhere she went.”
Tommy agreed, adding that she was honored to be part of the project, which she hopes will especially touch people of faith.
“To show the power of it… to show the profundity of it, it is survival, it’s the essence of our being.” said Tommy in speaking of Black Christian faith. “That’s how we know who we are, despite what they tell us.”
Rev. Dr. Roslyn Brock, NAACP chairman emeritus, noted that Franklin’s songs—be they gospel, civil-rights related, or rhythm and blues—all have helped African-Americans keep the faith.
“We accept the things we cannot change, but we’re committed to change the things that we cannot accept,” Brock said, paraphrasing an Angela Davis quote. “When we find ourselves tired and weary and worn, we can feel grateful that we can find words of encouragement in the words of Aretha Franklin: ‘Amazing Grace.’ Aretha reminded us that we should always value our human worth: ‘Respect.’ When we think about all she has left us, we thank God that he brought us a mighty, mighty long way.”