Faith focus in new film about Aretha Franklin
This weekend we will see the long awaited title Respect hit UK cinemas. The film tells the story of Aretha Franklin, played by the singer and actress Jennifer Hudson - and the main narrative it holds throughout is Aretha's faith
Aretha had been singing and playing the piano in front of friends, family, and her church (New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan) since she was a little girl — much of which was encouraged by her father to use her natural gifts and talents, but also from the relationship of being a PK (a Preacher’s Kid) and the scrutiny of being held to higher standards by members of the congregation and community.
Before her death in 2018, Aretha had asked Jennifer to play her in a biopic - and their shared faith and church upbringing played a big part, Jennifer explains.
'I feel like that's why Aretha and I relate, you know. I totally understand that. I get what music represented for her because it represents the same for me. The base of it comes from the church when you're that young.
'I started singing in church, as they said I was a lap baby on my grandmother's knee in the choir. They wanted a note hit, and I hit the note. Well, when you grow up in church singing the way Aretha and I did, you know, you learn to sing with a purpose with substance to a higher calling such as God — it's a completely different thing than just a simple song, it creates a sacred connection and comfort, which again I can, it's my life.'
Jennifer mentions that she felt a very real connection with Aretha Franklin on set. 'Especially the church moments, and that to me I learned was approached completely differently by her. When she would perform commercially, she would perform, but when she did her ministry in church singing the gospel, it was so internal. It was so personal. You can feel the anointing in the praise, and even in her secular music, you could still feel that presence 'cause anointing of it's there.'
She continues, 'It was always present with her, but any time we were in the church scenes — even for myself — I couldn't tell the difference if I'm at church singing or on a set shooting. So y'all just roll the camera, because that to me is where we completely connect and align in every way. It would be those moments, OK, Aretha, I get it.'
Jennifer’s deep connection to the church and her own life’s story gave her a deep connection to Aretha’s own journey — it was why she chose Jennifer to portray her. 'The church is everything, which is why it was so crucial in this. I'm like it would not be an Aretha Franklin film if it does not begin and end with the church in everything, even in Respect or Think, I was always there to remind them the base is the church for she and I. And I feel as though that is the biggest connection.
The film charts the perfectly imperfect journey of Aretha Franklin, and cinematically transports us into the life, legacy, and home of the Queen of Soul. It is a great opportunity to get out to the cinema with friends, and discuss themes of faith in times of hardship.
Respect is in UK cinemas nationwide from Friday 10 September.
Listen to Jennifer Hudson speak about her faith and the importance of her faith in playing Aretha Franklin in this short interview with Krish Kandiah. Jennifer has a message for the church too.