Movie Review: RESPECT, a Movie About Gospel Music Legend, Aretha Franklin

Music has seen several polarizing characters, but none seems close to Aretha Franklin. 

Aretha gave us several timeless musical pieces like “Chain of Fools,” Natural Woman,” and “Respect.” For several decades, the 18-time Grammy Award winner was a force in the music industry despite all the issues in her private life. 

Franklin was the subject of “Respect,” a biopic released in her honor last September. This review takes a peek at the cast, the storyline, and the good and bad about this movie. Grab a seat, and let’s dive straight in.

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Respect: Who Makes The Cast

Many biopics cover the life of the subject from birth to last breath. Respect takes a different turn as it only focuses on a twenty-year period in Aretha Franklin’s life. From when she was ten years old (suffering a lot of trauma) to the 1970s when she became a superstar.

The movie features an array of world-class acts, with Jennifer Hudson taking the lead role of Aretha Franklin. Every performance was commendable, but some stand-out acts include Titus Burgess, Forest Whitaker, Marc Maron, Marlon Wayans, and Audra McDonald.

The director, Liesl Tommy, takes us through Franklin’s turbulent life at an uneven pace. While the rest of her life seems more pedestrian, her musical performances are transcendent. In the end, we have a fantastic cast giving us a world-class delivery having us glued to our screens.

Respect: Movie Overview

At ten years old, Franklin was already a precocious talent. Her father, Baptist Minister C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker), saw this and groomed her to become a famous singer. He took pride in showcasing his young daughter to his friends (most of whom were black celebrities and leaders) at every opportunity.

Little wonder Aretha was singing at levels that didn’t match her years, making her rise to prominence at a young age. It was clear as day that her vocal range was created for gospel and soul music. Soon, Franklin met Ted White (Marlon Wayans) and broke free from her father. Ted went on to become her manager before the duo tied the knot.

There’s no doubt that Ted’s brash personality helped Aretha find footing as a professional singer. Yet, his hustler instincts were instrumental in dragging her down deep and dark emotional pits. It was the perfect bitter-sweet experience with a sour taste in the mouth. 

Thankfully, Aretha Franklin rose from her sagged career and turbulent life through reinvention. The proverbial “rise of the phoenix.” Her return climaxed with a gospel concert held at a famous Los Angeles church in 1972. 

Respect: The Good and Bad

Franklin handpicked Jennifer Hudson to play the lead role in Respect before her passing in 2018. As one would expect, Hudson killed the role, probably a better performance than she had in “Dreamgirls.”

Hudson captures the eyes from her first appearance in the movie and shows us why she is one of the best vocalists in the world. Viewers will have a filled day with how she weaves through every song with tact and grace. It leaves everyone asking, “could anyone else have played the role better?”

Unfortunately, there is a considerable contrast between the musical and non-musical scenes. The latter doesn’t seem spectacular, even though there were very classy performances. For example, young Aretha’s mother (McDonald) did a great job with her role, same for Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige). 

Most faith-based audiences are likely to have a problem with the profanity, infidelity, and abuse of profanity littered all over the movie. All of these are pretty distracting from the aim of portraying Aretha Franklin’s musical prowess as the “Queen of Soul.”


Regardless of what anyone has to say, Aretha Franklin’s story is one of the most difficult to tell. Her life was a mixture of failures and triumphs, bitter and sweet, beauty and ashes. While conquering the biggest stages in the world, Aretha struggled in her personal life that almost gave her career a nosedive. 

Despite her flaws, we will all remember Aretha as one of the last century’s most influential and iconic voices. Respect ends with Hudson singing Aretha’s “Amazing Grace” rendition, the perfect ending. For most people, this is the biggest takeaway from the movie. God is always there to save us from our most significant failings.

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