Respect: Forest Whitaker, Audra McDonald & more join Aretha Franklin biopic
MGM has announced that Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson has been joined by an award-winning ensemble cast for the biopic Respect, the remarkable true story of Aretha Franklin’s journey to find her voice.
Hudson, who was personally hand-picked by Franklin to play her in the film, is joined by Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy-winner Forest Whitaker; Marlon Wayans; Tony, Grammy and Emmy-winner Audra McDonald; Multiple Grammy-winning, and Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominee Mary J. Blige; Marc Maron; Emmy-nominee Tituss Burgess; Tony-nominee Saycon Sengbloh; Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore, Tate Donovan, and Skye Dakota Turner.
Respect will follow the rise of Franklin’s career from a child singing in her father’s church’s choir to her international superstardom. Marking the first authorized feature film based on Franklin’s life, the movie directed by Tony-nominee Liesl Tommy (Broadway’s Eclipsed) and is written by Emmy-nominee Tracey Scott Wilson (The Americans, Fosse/Verdon).
Whitaker will play Reverand CL Franklin, the man with the “Million-Dollar Voice” who served as the pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. Franklin was also the father of Aretha and her manager early on in her career.
Wayans will play Ted White, Aretha’s first husband, while McDonald will play Barbara Franklin, Aretha’s mother. Sengbloh will play Erma Franklin, Aretha’s eldest sister, and Kilgore will play Carolyn Franklin, Aretha’s sister. The role of young Aretha will be played by Turner.
Blige will play recording artist Dinah Washington. Heather Headley will play Clara Ward, the famed gospel artist and leader of The Famous Ward Sisters. Burgess will play Reverend Dr. James Cleveland, who was known as the King of Gospel. Marc Maron will star as legendary Atlantic Records music producer Jerry Wexler, and Donovan will play John Hammon, Columbia Records’ influential music producer.
“I am thrilled with the incredibly talented cast we have assembled for our film, and I’m so proud that Ms. Franklin entrusted us to tell her story and to share it with the world. As a storyteller, hers is the kind of story we all dream of telling. Her music has inspired me since I was a little girl, and the milestones of her life and career have shown us all how to strive and thrive. To have this powerhouse group of actors – and the phenomenal talent of Jennifer Hudson in this iconic role – means we have the chance of making this film as transcendent as her glorious life and legacy,” Tommy said.
The producers are Scott Bernstein (Straight Outta Compton) and multiple Grammy-nominated producer Harvey Mason Jr.(Dreamgirls), who has produced music for both Aretha Franklin and Jennifer Hudson. The film will begin shooting on November 1 and will be released domestically via UA on August 14, 2020. The movie will be distributed internationally by Universal Pictures International.
Respect will exclusively feature the iconic songs: Respect; I Say A Little Prayer; Think; (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman; You’ve Got A Friend; Dr. Feelgood; Do Right Woman, Do Right Man; Spanish Harlem; and Young, Gifted and Black. The film will also feature Ain’t No Way; Precious Lord; There’s A Fountain Filled With Blood; Amazing Grace; and Chain of Fools.
(Photo by Noam Galai and Taylor Hill/FilmMagic via Getty Images)