By Javier Romualdo
Los Angeles, Aug 10 (EFE).- Before her death in 2018, Aretha Franklin decided that Jennifer Hudson would be the actress to portray her in “Respect,” the only autobiographical film authorized by the Queen of Soul and which will hit theaters on Friday after years of delay.
“I remember our initial conversation, which was over 15 years ago when we first spoke about me playing her. So, for me, it’s been a long time in the making,” Hudson told EFE in an interview about the most important role of her career so far.
The actress and singer, who hurtled to fame in 2004 with her participation on “American Idol” and won an Oscar for her role in “Dreamgirls,” managed to forge a friendship with the iconic singer, for whom she expressed her admiration in the television singing contest.
Since then, Hudson’s life has had so many twists and turns that now she has had the chance to resurrect Franklin for the camera.
“She had this royal presence about her, … it was very prestigious but still kind of guarded, in a way. Very private, but very prideful, at the same time. And I learned that from just being around her,” Hudson said.
Franklin – who was born in Tennessee in 1942 – was so jealous of her privacy that attempts to document her life have never been easy. The artist tried to hinder the screening of the film made in 1972 of the recording of her great album “Amazing Grace” and never authorized the final publication of her biography.
Even after she died, her family found many copies of supposedly final wills hidden around her home, including in the couch.
That is why the “biopic” about Franklin, which is now making its debut in the US and will be screened in other countries starting in September, is causing great expectations. It is the only narrative approved by the singer, in contrast to the series starring Cynthia Erivo titled “Genius: Aretha,” which went public earlier this year and was heavily criticized by Franklin’s family.
Of all the films on music icons that have hit the big screen in recent years – including “Rocketman” (about Elton John), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Freddie Mercury), “Judy” (Judy Garland) – none have been surrounded by as much mystery as the one about Franklin.
For Hudson, one of the take-aways from the film is that celebrities and show business legends become “accustomed” to having nobody contradict them. She said that seeing Franklin turn out eight albums before actually finding the road to success, to creating a name for herself and having her first real hit was very inspiring.
Liesl Tommy and Tracey Scott Wilson, the director and screenwriter for “Respect,” decided to focus most of the film on the first steps Franklin took in the music business when she was a relatively unknown singer who had not yet found the formula for success despite her evident talent.
The story starts in her childhood, where she is played by 9-year-old Skye Dakota Turner, and shows Franklin to be a girl who grew up singing in a Baptist church in Detroit.
When she reached adulthood, Franklin moved to New York and there she recorded eight records that were almost unnoticed by the public, came to be written off by her record label and left the Big Apple disappointed with the music industry.
Then, she returned home, wrote her first song, in which she demanded “Respect.”
The fact that Metro Goldwyn Mayer selected two African American women to write and direct Franklin’s biography reinforces in the film the double discrimination – both racial and sexist – that the singer had to face throughout her life.
Forest Whitaker portrays her father C.L. Franklin, who was excessively controlling and gave his daughter no freedom, raising her in an environment that normalized sexual abuse, teen pregnancy and other abusive relations.
The success, money and fame that Franklin attained were not important. She always had a man behind her telling her what she had to do.
“I would tease the cast members and say, ‘You know what, if I don’t make you feel a little uncomfortable around me, in portraying Aretha, then I’m not doing my job,” Hudson said.
But the actress recalled that Franklin found support in her religious faith and in activism, inspired by her close association with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Angela Davis.