About a quarter of the way through The respect, audiences see Jennifer Hudson as young Aretha Franklin, covering Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” at Village Vanguard. Seconds later, Mary J. Blige’s Washington, sitting in the middle of the New York jazz club, turns his table over, shouting, “Bitch, never sing the Queen’s songs when the Queen is in front of you!”
Although vivid and memorable, the scene is not historically accurate. Rather, it appears to be a composite of two incidents – a similar blast Washington threw against Etta James and a criticism of Franklin’s locker room mess. But it underscores, in a meta way, one of the movie’s biggest truths: how nearly impossible, perhaps even blasphemous, it is to attempt to ward off the Soul Queen, even for a prodigiously talented star. like Hudson.
“I sit and think about it, like, what artist is built like that?” Hudson said, via Zoom, trying to describe Franklin’s gift. “She was the music. She was anointed, and her life was anointed. But Franklin clearly saw something in Hudson, asking to meet her after her Oscar-winning performance in Dream girls, and finalize the decision while Hudson was in The color purple on Broadway. “It was my dream to play her,” said the 40-year-old actress. “So, for her to say she wanted me to play her, that was a dream come true.”
The film, directed by Liesl Tommy, addresses childhood traumas – including the untimely death of her mother – that helped inform Franklin’s singular voice, as well as the abuse she suffered from her. first husband and manager, Ted White (Marlon Wayans), and his eventual descent into alcoholism. But it also ends with salvation through religion and song, beginning with Franklin singing alongside his father, Rev. CL Franklin, and ending with the recording of his seminal gospel album, amazing Grace, in a Baptist church in Los Angeles.
Like Franklin, Chicago-raised Hudson grew up in church (her initial performance on American Idol was the first time his family had heard him sing secular music). And her first screen appearance in The respect takes place during an inspiring religious service. “Once the shooting was over, the congregation kept moving forward,” Hudson says with a laugh. But it was like, ‘We have a church.’ “
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Much like Franklin, Hudson has gone through more than his fair share of trauma. In 2008, his mother, brother and seven-year-old nephew were murdered. Hudson’s estranged brother-in-law is serving a life sentence for these crimes. Towards the end of The respect, Franklin of Hudson sees a vision of his late mother, walking away from her piano to kiss her daughter and take a drink from her hands. “That scene, at that point, felt so real to me,” says Hudson. “One of my last moments with my family was at home near the piano. And for me, when I’m trying to find my inner peace, I always go to the piano and play a song that was inspired by my mom.
One challenge for Hudson, who describes himself as “very talkative and expressive”, was to convey Franklin’s subtlety. “Even when she was his most powerful and fabulous, [Franklin] was very careful with his words, ”Tommy says. “I was drawn to this side of her, why she was like that and how she went from someone who was uncertain and shy to someone who was clear on herself, who had agency. and who took his own power. It was the trip that interested me.
The role also marks a full journey for Hudson. His audition song for American Idol was Franklin’s “Share Your Love With Me”, after all. And last August, Hudson wowed audiences at We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert in Central Park with a stunning performance of “Nessun Dorma”, the aria that Franklin sang at one point at the 1998 Grammys, when Luciano Pavarotti was get sick. Hudson gave an encore performance of the piece the following weekend at Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda show in Venice.
Also over the summer, Hudson signed on to star in an anthology project called Say it like a woman. Her segment, “Pepcy & Kim,” directed by Taraji P. Henson, focuses on the true story of Kim Carter, a former drug addict who is now helping other women take back control of their lives. While Hudson acknowledges that “music is the nuance” that helps it connect with emotion in her work, she is also excited about the prospect of just playing. The next dream biopic role she’s currently manifesting is: “I’d love to play Oprah,” she says.
But for now, Hudson has returned to the awards season conversation, with many touting her. The respect showing as a worthy contender for the Oscar for Best Actress. Alongside Wayans, the accolades could not be more deserved. “She took after take after take, singing live. The woman never even asked for lemon and hot water or salt water to gargle. She was a machine, ”he says. “I am so happy to have been able to see this type of greatness. A queen played a queen. It is a beautiful thing to see.
Hair by Kiyah Wright at Muze Hair; Makeup by Adam Burrell for MAC Cosmetics; Manicure by Francesca Brown; Produced by Jonathan Bossle at Tightrope Production
This article appeared in the November 2021 issue of ELLE.
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