Stars of Aretha Franklin Biopic 'Respect' Shine Through the Darkness

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Posted: Aug 13, 2021 8:15 PM

On Friday, the Aretha Franklin biopic "Respect," was released into theaters, which Townhall had the opportunity to attend a preview screening of. As dazzling as the musical numbers are for audiences, especially those who are fans of the "Queen of Soul," there is a dark shadow cast over the film when it comes to the trials and tribulations Franklin endured from an early age, which would last for the rest of her life. Out of this darkness, though, is a brilliant cast all around.

"Respect" is rated PG-13 first and foremost for its "mature thematic elements." Audience members may not feel properly prepared for if they're just going based off what they see in the trailer. At a young age, Franklin was sexually abused and ultimately became pregnant as a result. She also lost her mother. Due to such childhood trauma, Franklin suffered from alcoholism and depressive episodes she and her family members referred to as "demons."

Only one of the most talented actresses could do justice for such a role, which is why it helps that Franklin herself handpicked Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson to play her in the film. We had referenced the touching exchange between Franklin and Hudson in a trailer preview.

Franklin's endorsement surely helps, but it seems that Hudson was born to play this role regardless. 

Hudson isn't the only one, though. Movie goers, especially millennials, will remember Marlon Wayans for his roles in the "Scary Movie" franchise and its spinoff films, as well as "White Chicks." While he did also appear in "Requiem for a Dream," he's mainly known for his comedic roles. In "Respect," Wayans plays Ted White, Franklin's first husband who also managed her career during their marriage. Another thematic nature of the film is the way in which viewers see White control and abuse Franklin.

The film also features Oscar winning Forest Whitaker as her father, C.L. Franklin.

As is the case with other biopics, even at two and a half hours long, it's clear that the film doesn't get to properly address every aspect it presents to the audience. For instance, transitions between Franklin's marriages and the ages of her children may seem jarring to viewers. 

Another aspect in this regard is to do with the political activism of Franklin, including her personal interactions with Martin Luther King Jr., and others, as her father was a civil rights leader in his own regard. Such activism extends to support for Communist Angela Davis, though viewers see such support only briefly. It's worth wondering if this is due to an issue of running out of time in the film, or to shield viewers from too much politics, or perhaps for both of those and other reasons. 

Faith plays a major part in Franklin's life, specifically in getting through her "demons." This specifically comes to be when viewers see a beleaguered and drunk Franklin envisions her mother while praying in the middle of the night out of a drunken stupor. 

The film concludes as Franklin is filming her documentary to go along with her "Amazing Grace" album from 1972, which went on to be her best-selling album. With such an accolade, it would be nice for viewers to get to see more of it in the film.

The film is not perfect, far from it, as some other reviews have shared. That doesn't take away, though, from how impressive it is that this is the first film the Tony nominated Liesel Tommy has directed before.

For viewers looking for more of a faith angle, MGM released a featurette on Wednesday in anticipation of the film's release.