“Respect” star Jennifer Hudson and director Liesl Tommy are singing the praises of the big-screen experience as the official trailer for their Aretha Franklin biopic arrives.
The film, which wrapped shooting just before the pandemic lockdown last spring, is scheduled to premiere in cinemas Aug. 13. No streaming plans have been announced, though a possible acquisition of MGM by Amazon, reported this week by Variety, might offer a clue.
The 2½-minute trailer, which bowed Wednesday, offers the most detailed look yet at the MGM film, following a pair of teaser videos released during production.
The trailer features several Queen of Soul classics sung by Hudson: “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Respect,” the last one heard as Franklin and her sisters work out their own take on the Otis Redding song.
Skye Dakota Turner is seen as the young Aretha, while Forest Whitaker plays the Rev. C.L. Franklin, at one point telling his daughter, “You have a talent they call genius.” Marlon Wayans plays husband-manager Ted White, with Marc Maron as Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler.
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The movie is the second high-profile Franklin project this year, following the National Geographic television series “Genius” in March. Both were scheduled for release in 2020 before plans were disrupted by the pandemic.
“Respect” zeroes in on Franklin’s early years, including her childhood in the gospel church and her eventual breakthrough to fame in 1967. The trailer includes a scene set during the recording of her live album “Amazing Grace” — so we know the storyline runs through at least 1972.
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Tommy said she set out to capture the formative experiences in the young singer’s journey while peeling back the curtain on her famously private persona.
“I took some time to really ponder the parts of her life that would really have an impact on audiences,” the director said. “When I dove into the things we don’t know about her, what came to me is this should be the story of a young woman with the greatest voice in the world fighting to find her own voice.”
Hudson and Liesl, appearing at an online media event Tuesday, touted “Respect” as an ideal movie-theater experience — and a chance for post-pandemic healing as the public returns to cinemas.
“I made the film to be seen on the big screen: Lavish locations. The costumes are lush. We labored over the design of the sound,” said Tommy. “It all has to live up to Ms. Franklin. She embodied excellence and taste, so our movie has to live in that place.”
Hudson, handpicked by Franklin for the role, recounted her earliest discussions with the Queen of Soul about the project. They first met in New York shortly after 2006’s “Dreamgirls,” which had netted Hudson an Oscar. Like much of “Respect,” that film was set in 1960s Detroit.
“I just sit back and think about how of a blueprint she’s been in my life and career,” said Hudson, who grew up singing in church in Chicago.
Still, for all of Franklin’s towering influence as an artist and icon in the Black community, “it wasn’t until I was in the thick of things that I got to understand her more myself, as a person,” Hudson said.
Hudson learned to play piano for the project, and said she continues to train. She avoided trying to imitate Franklin’s singing voice, she said, opting instead to channel the Queen of Soul in her own style.
As for acting, Hudson said she drilled in deep to capture the legend’s demeanor and mannerisms: Her own gregarious personality gave way to Franklin’s more subtle, reserved nature.
Portraying someone such as Franklin — a multidimensional figure and “world treasure,” Hudson said — demanded the hard work.
“You don’t just wake up one day and think you’re going to be Aretha,” she said.