There couldn’t be better timing for the release of the Aretha Franklin biopic ‘Respect’. Not only is August, in South Africa, synonymous with the celebration of women, especially those who have made their mark in business, the arts and more, as well as fought for the rights of others BUT the battle for ‘respect’ is ongoing… and that is worldwide.
To say that my colleagues and I were totally enrapt is an understatement. Award-winning theatrical director – Cape Town-born Liesl Tommy who makes her feature directorial debut, must be congratulated. She takes the viewer into Aretha’s life in such a way that one forgets one is sitting on a seat in a cinema. The tension is palpable as Aretha faces and overcomes each obstacle – not only does one face her hardships with her, but one celebrate her victories too.
Although this is a biopic and Aretha’s history is well-documented, Liesel’s choice of Jennifer Hudson to take on the lead role brings home the reality of this icon’s life with a fresh take that should appeal to all. Aretha’s journey to stardom was filled with hills and dales and yet she had the courage to grab life with both hands and forge her way forward while being vocal about the rights of others at the same time.
Skye Dakota Turner as the younger version of Aretha also possesses a voice that is definitely going to make waves in the future. Although I haven’t mentioned the other performances, each and every one is memorable in its own way from the overbearing father (Forest Whitaker) to the abusive husband (Marlon Wayans) as well as each of the family members and the roles they played in her life. You will be astounded too by the major figures who influenced Aretha’s upbringing and decisions… Martin Luther King Jr, Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige) and so many more.
Such is Jennifer Hudson’s entrancing performance as Aretha that when she takes to the stage to sing Aretha’s much-loved classics, the viewer is drawn into the moment where the lyrics are ‘palpable’ and ‘visceral’. This is the beauty of the arts – the ability to voice one’s emotions through song, poetry and more… there is nowhere to hide and one’s message comes through loud and clear.
To say more would be to give everything away. However, in closing I have to ask: What is the meaning of ‘Respect’ to you? Is it rushing through a door with no consideration for others? Is it being faithful in a relationship? Is it taking the time to really listen and assist someone else? Is it realising that a child isn’t a pawn in a game of self-gratification – that he/she still has to live with him/herself despite being tarnished with shame?
Do yourselves a favour… really listen to Aretha’s lyrics and absorb everything she is trying to express… guaranteed food for thought. She was proud of who she was and what she stood for… a ‘Natural Woman’ who deserves ‘Respect’!
‘Respect’ opens on South African screens this weekend (13 August 2021) and is an absolute MUST SEE!
Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Skye Dakota Turner, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Leroy McLain, Hailey Kilgore, Tate Donovan, Kimberly Scott