You don’t have to be from Detroit to know who Aretha Franklin was. She was an international superstar, the Queen of Soul and we still sing along to her music to this day. But unless you were her friend or family, often you didn’t know who she was. The public persona she put out there compared to what her life was really like are two different things. Sure, some of her struggles came out into the public light in her later years, but how much do fans really know about Aretha Franklin the early years that shaped her into who she was later in life?
Respect follows Aretha Franklin’s life from her childhood at about ten years old until just about the peak of her career in the 1970’s. It follows her through her life as she goes from a child who is paraded out in front of the church and family friends to perform, to getting her record contracts and finding her own voice in many different ways. It covers her childhood pregnancies, her relationships with her father and abusive ex-husband as well as her dependence on alcohol to help her cope.
While the movie does cover Ms. Franklin’s introduction to the civil rights movement and her commitment to it, it doesn’t touch much on her later involvement as the years went on. It focuses more on her personal turmoil and how she used music and her religion to channel that into her songs and the sound she became famous for.
Although the tagline of the film is teasing the audience with the meaning of Respect and what it meant to Aretha, it seems to fall short on delivering that promise. The hardships she endured, seemed to haunt her through her whole life and aren’t something aspirational that she “overcame” instead, it seems like she battled them until her death and they are what may have actually held her back from even more greatness. I’m sure some people will find the movie inspirational, but I left the screening feeling the film was heartbreaking and way too long.
Our screening of Respect was a mixture of press members as well as personal friends and family of Aretha Franklin. I’m not sure how it would be to see the life and trials of a friend or family member portrayed on the big screen in front of you, or even yourself if you were included in the story. But it had to have been a surreal experience for them, and it makes you wonder if they felt the same sadness about the story that other viewers did.
One shining praise for the film was the casting. Aretha is played by Jennifer Hudson, who was actually cast by Aretha herself before her death. But the strong performances by all of the actors throughout the film makes you lose yourself in the time and film. The actor’s usual characters and roles are thrown out and they slide so perfectly into the time and real life people they are portraying.
Respect has a run time of 2 hours and 25 minutes, joining a long list of movies that have been released this summer that are longer than audiences are used to. The movie only covers a small portion of Aretha’s life, but with a film time of that length, you’d expect the movie to cover much more of her life – or be a more in-depth tribute to her life. Instead, it leaves several years off, and ones locals know weren’t the easiest for her.
Respect will only be in theaters on August 13th.
Director Liesl Tommy makes her feature film debut with Respect. Tommy is the first Black woman ever nominated for a Tony Award® for Best Direction of a Play in 2016 for Eclipsed, and is an Associate Artist at the Berkeley Rep and an Artist Trustee with the Sundance Institute’s Board of Trustees.
With a story by Callie Khouri (Oscar® winner for Writing, Thelma & Louise) and Tracey Scott Wilson, and screenplay written by Tracey Scott Wilson. Wilson and Tommy have worked together creatively since the 2009 play The Good Negro written by Wilson, directed by Tommy at The Public Theatre. Wilson was a writer on FX’s The Americans which garnered her a Peabody Award as well as Emmy® and WGA Award nominations.
Following the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career from a child singing in her father’s church’s choir to her international superstardom, RESPECT is the remarkable true story of the music icon’s journey to find her voice.