‘Respect’: How Jennifer Hudson Realized Aretha Franklin Had ‘Always Been Present in My Life’

Aretha Franklin’s biopic, Respect, premiered in theaters nationwide on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. The movie about the music legend’s life stars Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul. 

Before her 2018 death, Franklin handpicked the Black Nativity star to portray her. While filming the movie, Hudson learned she always had a spiritual connection to the musical legend. 

'Respect' stars Jennifer Hudson and Marlon Wayans as Aretha Franklin and Ted White walking out of a building at night.
Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin and Marlon Wayans as Ted White in ‘Respect’ | James Devaney/GC Images

How Jennifer Hudson found out she was playing Aretha Franklin in ‘Respect’ 

Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, and Janelle Monae at the 2014 BET Honors.
Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, and Janelle Monae | Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty Images for BET

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Born and raised in Chicago, Hudson grew up listening to many artists who inspired her career. However, Franklin was one of her biggest influences as a child. Hudson even auditioned for American Idol singing Respect back in the early 2000s.

After her American Idol fame, the “Spotlight” singer won the part of Effie White in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls. Following the movie’s release, Hudson won an Oscar for the role. During that time, she shared that she wanted to play Franklin in the future. Soon, the “Natural Woman” singer approached Hudson about participating in her biopic. Several years later, Franklin rewarded her with the role on Broadway in The Color Purple in 2015. 

“It was when I was on Broadway when she called me and said, ‘I’ve made my decision, and it is you, young lady, who I want to play me, but don’t you tell a soul now,’” Hudson shared during a discussion with CinemaBlend in May 2021. “I was like, ‘Yes ma’am; I won’t.’”

Why Jennifer Hudson always felt connected to the ‘Respect’ singer

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In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Hudson explained that Respect was a 15-year process. Although she and Franklin spoke about the movie in the mid-2000s, she didn’t start working on the film until the “Rock Steady” artist died of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 16, 2018. 

Hudson started shooting Respect in 2019. While preparing for the role, she realized how much of an impact Franklin had on her childhood. Like the “Freeway of Love” artist, Hudson grew up singing in the choir at her local church. The Secret Life of Bees actor said she noticed Franklin’s spiritual role in her life through her research. 

“Every artist, every musician, you’ve got to cross paths with Aretha, especially if you want to be great,” Hudson shared with The New York Times in Aug. 2021. “She’s always been present in my life in some form, even when I didn’t know it. Our church music was based solely on her. The “Amazing Grace” that I grew up singing in church came from her Amazing Grace album. I didn’t realize that until we were doing research on the film.”

Hudson executive produced the Queen of Soul’s biopic

Respect follows Franklin’s legacy from her journey as a pastor’s daughter in Detroit to celebrating her church roots with the acclaimed Amazing Grace album. In between, fans receive an inside look at some of the singer’s personal life, including her tumultuous marriage with Ted White (played by Marlon Wayans). 

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In addition to playing Franklin, Hudson also executive produced the film. Through her position, the Cats star said she made significant contributions to the movie’s soundtrack. 

“I wanted to make sure the right songs were in the film,” Hudson said of the Queen of Soul. “I wanted ‘Ain’t No Way.’ If I’m just an actor, I don’t really get a say, but with this, it’s like,‘I’m sorry, but we can’t do this unless ‘Ain’t No Way’ is a part of it.’”

Before she died, Franklin told Hudson that Respect would earn her another Oscar win.