Jennifer Hudson has a bevy of accolades including a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe and Academy Award for her brilliant portrayal of Effie White in Bill Condon’s film version of the iconic Broadway musical Dreamgirls. Hudson knows the stakes of bringing a beloved story and electric musical performances to the big screen. The BAFTA award winner has had many roles on television and film since then including starring in 2013’s film version of Black Nativity, but playing her idol Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul and by all accounts a musical genius, is something else.
It isn’t as if Hudson hasn’t played a legend before. In 2011, she starred as freedom fighter Winnie Mandela in the Darrell Roodt directed film of the same name. Playing a woman doing whatever it takes to win the fight against Apartheid in South Africa against all odds is one thing. Playing the woman who changed rock ‘n roll and R&B and hand-picked you to play her in a movie while facing her mortality is another. Aretha Franklin is an institution and any actress who takes on the role of bringing Franklin’s story to the big screen is engaged in some heavy lifting in the entertainment world.
Hudson acknowledges the surreal aspect of playing a woman who she grew up idolizing and informed her musical style. “I grew up singing in church and anybody who sings in the choir idolizes Aretha Franklin,” says the two-time Grammy award winner. “Preparing for this role, I had to think about the acting and the music. I feel blessed and grateful to be here,” added Hudson, who sang at Franklin’s star-studded funeral.
Hudson, who got her break as a contestant on American Idol and rose to superstardom through her role as Effie and Grammy win for her self-titled debut album, is known and respected in the music world for her singing chops and gospel influences. Hudson, who also sang at music legend Whitney Houston’s funeral, understands the role of the church and faith in her life as well as Franklin’s.
“I think it’s so powerful the film starts in the church and ends in the church,” says Hudson. She added that is was important for her to have faith at the center of the narrative of the film, directed by Liesl Tommy.
Like Aretha, whose life was difficult and full of obstacles and tragedy, Hudson has suffered her own with the devastating loss of her mother and nephew at the hands of an enraged and violent family member. At the height of Hudson’s fame, the celebrated performer was dealt a personal blow from which many never recover. Hudson persevered and maintained her significance in the music and film world much like Franklin, married and gave birth to a son the following year.
It is clear that Hudson, who first met Franklin backstage after opening a show for her in 2004, understands the significance of being selected by the Queen of Soul to play this role. Yes, she is tremendously qualified to play the role, but the Chicago native’s steps are also ordered to be chosen by Franklin for the role. Just as Hudson learned to develop her style of singing in the church and from watching and listening to Franklin, Hudson also learned something about herself when making this film. Hudson learned to own her voice.
“It wasn’t until Aretha owned her voice, we all got our Queen of Soul,” says Hudson. Like Franklin who is perhaps the most influential music artist of our time and left a legacy of excellence in multiple genres, Hudson understands remaining true to your core values and yourself is what will bring you the joy and reward many are seeking.
“if we all took the time to look within ourselves and own our own voice, then we would see what queen or king is under there and find the gift to give to the world,” adds Hudson. It is clear that Hudson, who studied piano in preparation for the role, has many more gifts to give and this performance is one of them.
RESPECT premieres Friday, August 13, 2021 in a theater near you. Check local movie listings for screening times.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.