Talent Comes With A Price

Stars: Jennifer Hudson, Skye Dakota Turner, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Tate Donovan, Mary J. Blige, Kelvin Hair and Lodric D. Collins
Director: Liesl Tommy
Scriptwriter: Tracey Scott Wilson from a story by Callie Khouri and Tracey Scott Wilson
Composer: Kris Bowers
Cinematography: Kramer Morgenthau
Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer and United Artists and Universal Pictures
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 145 Minutes 

“Respect,” a bio-pic on the life of singer Aretha Franklin is another in the line of films about popular female vocalists. There was Viola Davis in “Ma Rainey,” and Mary J. Blige with Dinah Washington. Jennifer Hudson now takes on the role of Aretha Franklin and was chosen to do so by the “Queen of Soul” herself, Aretha Franklin. Each singer had their story to tell, but the music and the voice is what the audience comes for.  Such is “Respect,” with Jennifer Hudson giving a powerful vocal performance and interpretation of the life of Aretha Franklin. Sometimes, talent comes with a price. 

As with many talented artists in the world, behind the façade of talent is low self-esteem. Somehow, they don’t feel worthy of their talent.  Aretha Franklin falls into this category. She endured sexual abuse as a teenager and an abusive man in later life. Also, Franklin dealt with alcohol problems. 

In this film, we begin with Aretha as a child singing at some of her family house get-togethers. Aretha at this age is presented by Skye Dakota Turner who steals her scenes. Aretha’s mother (Audra McDonald), left the family early and Aretha was with her father (Forest Whitaker), a minister. Aretha was close to her sisters and worked to provide for her family. Life was miserable with Aretha being sexually assaulted as a young teen, becoming pregnant, and later, enduring hardship and a commanding husband, played by Marlon Wayans. Through all this, Aretha’s voice was there and eventually, she earned fame both for selecting and arranging songs, and for her performance style.  “Respect” was the song of the time, and who doesn’t want to be acknowledged. There is a long list of hit songs in the film, including “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” to “I Say a Little Prayer” (which was done first by Dionne Warwick and later by Franklin) and then to Franklin’s smash album,” Amazing Grace.” 

The film is put together by scenes with few connections.  It is like pages in a book, or scenes in a play. Acting is well done, especially by Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige as Dinah Washington and Skye Dakota Turner. The best parts are the creative parts with Aretha knowing just how to blend this with that and coming up with something new. Not only is “Respect” a film about music, it is about domestic abuse and alcoholism and how this triangle combines in a person’s life. The smiling face on stage with a microphone is ten percent of what is happening backstage. The “Queen of Soul” was queen of a kingdom of hardship in her lifetime. All in all, you can just close your eyes and listen. 

*Note: for another interpretation of the life of Aretha Franklin, A National Geographic special ran a few months ago, starring Cynthia Erivo as Franklin. 


Copyright 2021 Marie Asner