By: Nsenga K. Burton Ph.D.
Jennifer Hudson, who Franklin hand-picked to play her before her death in 2018, rose to fame as a contestant on American Idol in 2004. Hudson was lambasted by cantankerous host Simon Cowell who said Hudson was “out of her depth” in the contest and would not make it in the industry. Three years later, Cowell issued a public mea culpa saying he was “wrong” about Hudson after she won the 2007 Academy Award for best-supporting actress in her breakout role as Effie White in Bill Condon’s film version of Dreamgirls.
Academy award-winning actress and Grammy award-winner Jennifer Hudson has made a triumphant return to the big screen in the role of a lifetime, starring as Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Named for one of Franklin’s greatest hits, Respect, a biopic written by Tracey Scott Wilson and directed by Liesl Tommy, takes viewers on a journey through Franklin’s tumultuous life. Despite all of the personal obstacles and professional challenges, Franklin who was lauded and often described as a genius because of her impeccable musicianship, empowering writing and powerful performances, rose above the setbacks becoming the voice of a generation.
Hudson, who Franklin hand-picked to play her before her death in 2018, rose to fame as a contestant on American Idol in 2004. Hudson was lambasted by cantankerous host Simon Cowell who said Hudson was “out of her depth” in the contest and would not make it in the industry. Three years later, Cowell issued a public mea culpa saying he was “wrong” about Hudson after she won the 2007 Academy Award for best supporting actress in her breakout role as Effie White in Bill Condon’s film version of Dreamgirls.
Hudson’s self-titled debut album would go on to win the Grammy for Best R&B album in 2008. In October of that same year, Hudson’s mother and nephew were tragically killed in a domestic violence incident. Like Franklin, Hudson’s young life was marked by obstacles and tragedies. Like Franklin, she rose above them and continued to build and maintain a celebrated career.
In a virtual interview with Hudson, the two-time Grammy winner discusses what she has in common with Franklin, most of which is faith.” I think her faith was everything and mine as well. That’s what got me through this because I wouldn’t have been able to do this without it,” says Hudson. “It’s her base. It’s who she is. When you leave the church and go beyond, people think you left the church but that’s what actually carries you through,” Hudson adds.
Like Franklin, Hudson began singing in the church and went on to gain superstardom in the R&B world. “I think it’s so powerful the film starts in the church and ends in the church,” says the woman who recently sang at Franklin’s home church, New Bethel Baptist Church. Hudson says she “had to do it” because being in that space was familiar and moved her. Like Aretha, faith is central to Hudson’s life and needed to be central to the film.
“That (faith) was most important to me and to have that faith maintained throughout the film,” offers Hudson. “Even though she sang many genres, gospel was always her base and that’s what got her through everything musically.”
Faith is woven throughout the film and there is something for everyone in the film Hudson declares. The Academy Award winner says this film is for all audiences – women, spiritual people, dreamers and those who may have had big dreams and suffered setbacks.
What is Hudson’s takeaway from Aretha Franklin’s life? “The takeaway for me was just owning your voice. It wasn’t until Aretha owned her voice [that] we all got our Queen of Soul.”
RESPECT premieres in theaters Friday, August 13, 2021.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., NNPA Culture and Entertainment Editor and the founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual. Follow The Burton Wire on Instagram or Twitter @TheBurtonWire.