Respect is a 2021 American biographical musical drama film directed by Liesl Tommy (in her feature directorial debut), written by Tracey Scott Wilson, Callie Khouri, and is based on the life of American singer Aretha Franklin. The film stars Jennifer Hudson as Franklin, with Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, and Mary J. Blige in supporting roles. The film follows the first two decades of Franklin’s life, from being born as a musical prodigy in an affluent African-American family, the repercussions of losing her mother at age 10 to her arduous rise to international musical stardom, while enduring an abusive marriage, ultimately concluding with the recording of her influential live album Amazing Grace (1972).

A film on Franklin’s life was in development for a long time with Franklin herself involved in the pre-production, however the film languished in development hell for years due to lack of finding a suitable candidate. Following release of the musical film Dreamgirls (2006), Franklin asked Hudson to play her but did not finalize her decision until seeing her in the Broadway musical The Color Purple. The film began production in early 2019 and had concluded by February 2020. The film is dedicated to Franklin, who died in 2018.

After much delay and postponement, due to the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic, Respect premiered in Los Angeles on August 8, 2021,[2] and was released theatrically in the United States on August 13, 2021, by United Artists Releasing, and in other territories by Universal Pictures. The film grossed over $31 million and received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise for the performances, the film’s production values and costume design, but received criticism for its formulaic screenplay and long runtime.

Plot

In 1952, 10-year-old Aretha Franklin lives with her Baptist pastor father C.L., her brother Cecil, and her sisters Erma and Carolyn in Detroit, Michigan. The sudden death of her mother Barbara traumatizes Aretha and, as a result, she is unwilling to speak until her father forces her to sing at church after weeks.

Seven years later, Aretha, now a teen mother of two boys, meets Ted White, a local producer, at a party at her father’s house. The two strike up a conversation before being interrupted by C. L., who warns Ted to stay away from his family. Later, C. L. surprises Aretha with tickets to New York for a meeting with Columbia Records executive John Hammond. After being offered a contract, Aretha begins to sing jazz records with Columbia, including “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.”

Four albums later, Aretha still lacks a signature hit as a jazz singer. After singing a tribute to inspiration and longtime family friend Dinah Washington, who is initially angered by the gesture, she is told to find songs that move her and stop trying to fit the polished image her father wants her to display. Aretha reunites with Ted, with whom she begins a relationship. Frustrated by her lack of success after nine albums, Aretha begins skipping recording sessions to see him, embarrassing her father. Much to the chagrin of her sisters and the dismay of their father, Aretha returns home and introduces Ted to her family and announces her desire to have Ted become her manager; her father begrudgingly consents.

Two years later, Ted and Aretha marry and have a child, while Aretha is ultimately dropped by Columbia. Ted secures a deal with veteran record producer Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, who pairs her with accomplished musicians in Muscle Shoals, where Aretha begins to record her first hit, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”. However, the recording session is cut short after Ted gets into a fight with the manager of the studio.

After a physical altercation with Ted results in a black eye, Aretha returns home to Detroit and hears her own song on the radio, empowering her to take a more hands-on role in her career. One night, Aretha and Carolyn are inspired to re-arrange Otis Redding’s song “Respect,” and it becomes a #1 single.

Before a concert, Dr. Martin Luther King, a longtime family friend of the Franklins, honors Aretha with an award from the Southern Christian Leadership Center, proclaiming February 16 as “Aretha Franklin Day” in Detroit. Aretha sings another signature hit, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and makes plans to sing for another civil rights event in Memphis, defying Ted’s plan for her to meet with Wexler and other executives to discuss the prospect of a tour. After Time magazine publishes an article depicting Ted’s abuse towards Aretha in a hotel lobby, an angry Ted confronts Aretha, causing her to end their relationship.

After the breakdown of her marriage to Ted, Aretha begins dating her tour manager Ken Cunningham, and eventually has her fourth child. Another seven years later, after learning of Dr. King’s assassination, Aretha’s distraught father drunkenly argues with her over the direction of the Movement, expressing doubt in the younger generation’s patience and ability to make long-term gains, before ultimately telling Aretha that she no longer walks in the spirit.

Aretha continues to release hits but has begun to overwork herself, constantly double-booking appearances and coping with the pressure of her career by increasingly turning to alcohol and drugs. Aretha’s siblings attempt to stage an intervention, but Aretha angrily tells them they are supported by her success. During a performance, a drunken Aretha falls from the stage and Ken decides to leave. Aretha continues to find solace in her drinking until she sees a vision of her late mother and decides to sober up, leading to Ken reconciling with her.

Aretha becomes convinced that she must return to her gospel roots, and approaches Wexler with the idea of producing a gospel album. Doubtful of the album’s ability to sell, Wexler attempts to dissuade her before relenting on the condition that she allow the recording to be filmed. Aretha begins rehearsals with family friend James Cleveland, now a respected gospel artist. During the recording, Aretha is happy to see that her father has agreed to come, and he apologizes to Aretha for the pain he has caused her. She begins to sing Amazing Grace, which became the highest-selling album of her career with over two million copies sold in the United States and earned a double platinum certification.

Cast

  • Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin[7]
  • Forest Whitaker as C. L. Franklin, Aretha’s father
  • Marlon Wayans as Ted White, Aretha’s abusive husband and manager
  • Audra McDonald as Barbara Siggers Franklin, Aretha’s mother
  • Marc Maron as Jerry Wexler
  • Albert Jones as Ken Cunningham
  • Leroy McClain as Cecil Franklin, Aretha’s older brother
  • Tituss Burgess as James Cleveland
  • Saycon Sengbloh as Erma Franklin, Aretha’s older sister
  • Hailey Kilgore as Carolyn Franklin, Aretha’s younger sister
  • Tate Donovan as John Hammond
  • Mary J. Blige as Dinah Washington
  • Kelvin Hair as Sam Cooke
  • Heather Headley as Clara Ward
  • Lodric D. Collins as Smokey Robinson[1]
  • Gilbert Glenn Brown as Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Brenda Nicole Moorer as Brenda Franklin-Corbett, Aretha’s cousin

Production

The project had been long in development, with Jennifer Hudson set to play Aretha Franklin. Franklin herself was involved with the development up until her death on August 16, 2018.[7] She stated that Hudson would win an Oscar for the portrayal.[8] In January 2019, Liesl Tommy was set to direct the film.[9] The rest of the cast was added in October 2019, including Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald and Mary J. Blige.[1]

In a June 2019 slate deal, MGM added Bron Creative as a co-financing and producing company to this film.[10] Filming began in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 2, 2019,[11] and wrapped on February 15, 2020.[12] Jonathan Glickman, MGM’s President of the Motion Picture Group, exited the company on February 1, 2020, with a first-look deal starting with the film.[13]

Soundtrack

The film’s soundtrack features one original song, “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)”, performed by Hudson. Written by Hudson, Carole King, and Jamie Hartman[14] and produced by will.i.am and Johnny Goldstein, the song was released on June 18, 2021.[15] “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart dated August 28, 2021.[16] The soundtrack album was released on August 13 via Epic Records.[17][18]

Track listing

No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1.“There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood”William Cowper, Lowell Mason2:53
2.“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer2:20
3.“Nature Boy”Eden Ahbez3:13
4.“I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”Ronnie Shannon3:56
5.“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”Chips Moman, Dan Penn3:13
6.“Dr. Feelgood”Aretha Franklin, Ted White3:24
7.“Respect”Otis Redding3:42
8.“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone”Aretha Franklin, Ted White2:26
9.“Ain’t No Way”Carolyn Franklin4:16
10.“(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Jerry Wexler3:07
11.“Chain of Fools”Don Covay2:29
12.“Think”Aretha Franklin, Ted White1:49
13.“Take My Hand, Precious Lord”Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey2:18
14.“Spanish Harlem”Jerry Leiber, Phil Spector3:38
15.“I Say a Little Prayer”Burt Bacharach, Hal David3:41
16.“Precious Memories”J.B.F. Wright1:57
17.“Amazing Grace”Traditional5:03
18.“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)”Jamie Hartman, Jennifer Hudson, Carole King5:14
Total length:58:39

Charts

Chart performance for Respect
Chart (2021)Peak
position
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[19]93
UK Digital Albums (OCC)[20]33
UK Soundtrack Albums (OCC)[21]6
US Billboard 200[22]151
US Soundtrack Albums (Billboard)[23]2
US Top R&B Albums (Billboard)[24]16

Release

Respect premiered in Los Angeles on August 8, 2021, and was theatrically released in the United States on August 13, 2021.[25] It was originally scheduled for a limited release on December 25, 2020, followed by an expansion on January 8, 2021, before going wide the following week.[26] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was switched to a sole wide release on January 15, without a limited release,[27] before it was delayed again to August 2021. Previous release dates also included August 14, 2020, and October 9.[28]

The film screened at the 74th Locarno Film Festival, in the Piazza Grande section to be held from August 4 to 14.[29]

Reception

Box office

As of October 20, 2021, Respect has grossed $24.3 million in the United States and Canada, and $7.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $31.5 million.[6][5]

In the United States and Canada, Respect was released alongside Free Guy and Don’t Breathe 2, and was projected to gross around $10 million from 3,207 theaters in its opening weekend.[4] The film made $3.6 million on its first day, including $650,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $8.8 million, finishing fourth at the box office.[30] Despite the film’s targeted demographics of older, female, and African-American audiences all being among the most-reluctant to attend a theater amid the pandemic, the film’s opening weekend audience was 63{ae90547d17d4d74b17007ee836a04674fd006933c139011dc78eb03c100070a7} female and 47{ae90547d17d4d74b17007ee836a04674fd006933c139011dc78eb03c100070a7} African American, with 86{ae90547d17d4d74b17007ee836a04674fd006933c139011dc78eb03c100070a7} being over the age of 25.[31] The film made $3.8 million in its second weekend (a drop of 57{ae90547d17d4d74b17007ee836a04674fd006933c139011dc78eb03c100070a7}), finishing fifth, then made $2.2 million in its third weekend.[32][33]

Outside the U.S., the film’s largest opening was in Australia, grossing nearly $1 million in its first weekend.[34] It finished third in the U.K. with $500,000, and debuted to $450,000 in France.[35]

Critical response

Respect garnered mostly positive reviews with critics praising Hudson’s portrayal of Franklin as well as the costume design and production design but criticized the screenwriters’ formulaic approach to the narrative and its long runtime.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 67{ae90547d17d4d74b17007ee836a04674fd006933c139011dc78eb03c100070a7} based on 181 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “This standard-issue biopic falls shy of its subject’s transcendent brilliance, but Jennifer Hudson’s starring performance absolutely commands Respect.”[36] On Metacritic, the film has an aggregate score of 62 out of 100 based on 44 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.[37] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “A” on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it an 89{ae90547d17d4d74b17007ee836a04674fd006933c139011dc78eb03c100070a7} positive score.[31]

In a positive review from The New York Times, Manohla Dargis stated that the film “finds its own groove” and praised the performances of Mary J. Blige and Jennifer Hudson.”[38] Odie Henderson of RogerEbert.com gave the film a score of 3 out of 4 stars, writing that “Hudson performs with the same tireless intensity Re was known for throughout her career. It’s a damn entertaining movie.” Henderson also said “There’s a fair amount of ugliness in Franklin’s story—sexual assault, domestic abuse, alcoholism—and it’s to the film’s credit that it resists the temptation to treat these issues salaciously. But Respect never goes deeper than a surface-level exploration of how these traumas affected Franklin.”[39]

Writing for Variety, Peter Debruge called the film an “overly respectful biopic [that] steers clear of revealing the traumas that shaped the soul legend” and said: “Though Respect can feel a little soft in the drama department, it delivers the added pleasure of hearing Hudson re-create Franklin’s key songs, from the early jazz standards she covered for Columbia to her reinvention of the Otis Redding single that lends the film its name.”[40] Also writing for Variety, Cassie Da Costa praised Hudson’s portrayal of Franklin, saying: “Bringing an incredible mix of gestural subtlety and musical power, it cannot be said enough what Hudson achieves here by transmitting a rich sense of interiority, staying true to who Franklin was in private with every look given, word spoken, and melisma sung.”[41]

Pete Hammond of Deadline also praised Hudson’s performance, saying; “This is Jennifer Hudson’s triumph merged with the spirit and guidance from an even greater voice above. Hudson’s performance is an electrifying sight to behold.”[42] Sasha Stone from Awards Daily, praised the film and especially Hudson’s performance, saying: “Hudson’s performance is partly her incredible voice. She suspends time in reverie whenever she sings. But this performance also establishes her as an actress capable of navigating the ever-changing waters of Franklin’s complicated life—from a young wife who doesn’t quite understand exactly what kind of gift she actually has, through to finding a way to honor her own creative spirit.”[43] Writing for Time, Stephanie Zacharek called Respect “both entertaining and emotionally revelatory” and praised the performances of the cast, especially Hudson’s, saying: “It’s Hudson’s job to play the adult version of that girl, and she shoulders it with something like tenderness. The easy thing, when you’re playing a strong, potent character, is to bite down; Hudson never does. This is a terrific performance, underplayed in all the right ways, an emotionally detailed portrait of a woman who knew what she wanted and knew she could deliver—but who also moved through life knowing that she’d been cruelly robbed of that thing we so sentimentally call childhood.”[44]

Accolades

YearAward organizationCategoryRecipientResultRef.
2021African-American Film Critics AssociationTop 10 FilmsRespect3rd place[45]
Best ActressJennifer HudsonWon[46]
Black Film Critics CircleTop 10 FilmsRespect5th place[47]
Best ActressJennifer HudsonRunner-up
Detroit Film Critics SocietyBest ActressNominated[48]
12th Hollywood Music in Media AwardsBest Original Song in a Feature Film“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” [a]Nominated[49][50]
Best Original Song – Onscreen PerformanceJennifer Hudson, Hailey Kilgore & Saycon Sengbloh – “Respect”Nominated
47th People’s Choice AwardsThe Drama Movie of 2021Harvey Mason Jr., Scott Bernstein, Jonathan Glickman, Stacey Sher, Jennifer HudsonNominated[51]
The Female Movie Star of 2021Jennifer HudsonNominated
The Drama Movie Star of 2021Nominated
23rd Women’s Image AwardsBest Feature FilmHarvey Mason Jr., Scott Bernstein, Jonathan Glickman, Stacey SherNominated[52]
Best ActressJennifer HudsonNominated
202211th AACTA International AwardsBest ActressNominated
22nd Black Reel AwardsOutstanding ActressNominated[53]
Outstanding Original Song“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” [b]Nominated
Outstanding Original ScoreKris BowersNominated
Outstanding EditingAvril BeukesNominated
79th Golden Globe AwardsBest Original Song“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” [c]Nominated[54][55]
64th Annual Grammy AwardsBest Compilation Soundtrack for Visual MediaRespectNominated[56]
Best Song Written for Visual Media“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)”Nominated
53rd NAACP Image AwardsOutstanding Motion PictureHarvey Mason Jr., Scott Bernstein, Jonathan Glickman, Stacey Sher, Jennifer HudsonNominated[57]
Entertainer of the YearJennifer HudsonNominated
Outstanding Actress in a Motion PictureWon
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion PictureAudra McDonaldNominated
Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion PictureRespectNominated
Outstanding Breakthrough Creative (Motion Picture)Liesl TommyNominated
Outstanding Soundtrack/Compilation AlbumStephen Bray, Jason Michael WebbNominated
Palm Springs International Film FestivalChairman’s AwardJennifer HudsonWon[58]
26th Satellite AwardsBest Motion Picture – Comedy or MusicalHarvey Mason Jr., Scott Bernstein, Jonathan Glickman, Stacey SherNominated[59][60]
Best Original Song“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” [d]Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or MusicalJennifer HudsonNominated
28th Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading RoleNominated[61]
Society of Composers & Lyricists AwardsOutstanding Original Song for a Musical or Comedy Visual Production“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” [e]Nominated[62]

Notes

  • Official website
  • Respect at IMDb
  • Official screenplay


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