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Aretha Franklin Biopic Project with Jennifer Hudson ‘Definitely Moving Forward’

(Getty Images)

*Word of an Aretha Franklin biopic to star Jennifer Hudson was first revealed last January, when Clive Davis broke the news at his annual pre-Grammy party before introducing J-Hud onstage to sing a medley of Franklin’s hits.

“The artist anointed by Aretha Franklin herself,” Davis said in bringing Hudson to the stage, adding “Aretha personally told me that last week,” that the Oscar winner would play her on the big screen.

According to one of its producers, the Hudson film is still going ahead, despite the life rights issues that Franklin’s passing may (or may not) dredge up, notes The Hollywood Reporter.

“Oh, it’s definitely moving forward,” says Harvey Mason Jr., a longtime music producer for Franklin who’d been working with the singer on the biopic for the past 18 months. “We are going forward and making the movie that Aretha wanted to make.” Still, as of this writing, the project has no director, possibly no script (“We’re not really saying,” teases Mason) and maybe no studio (an MGM rep will not comment on rumors that the studio is interested).

Aretha biopic projects have been floating around for years. USA Network was reportedly negotiating a TV movie at one point, “but before Davis’ announcement, the closest it came to casting was in 2011, when Franklin caused a stir by mentioning on “The Wendy Williams Show” that Halle Berry would be her first choice. Berry later brushed off the notion, saying she couldn’t “carry a tune.”

According to THR, here has always been one known treatment for a Franklin biopic, written by “Ray” director Taylor Hackford in 2012. “Aretha had seen Ray and she called me to tell me how much she liked it,” Hackford tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So we started working together on a film about her life. We talked on a semi-regular basis and met three times, and I ended up writing a treatment that she really liked. She kept changing 
how much money she wanted [for the life rights] — $1 million, $2 million — but 
we probably could have sold it.” Except for one problem: “She wanted casting control of every character: herself, her sisters, her father, her grandmother,” says Hackford. “I kept telling her nobody would agree to that. Ray Charles was a difficult guy, but even he never asked me that; Ray Charles had no idea who Jamie Foxx was. But she stuck by her demands. Aretha was not shy. So the project got put on hold.”

Below, the impact of Franklin’s death on her life rights as well as the never-released 1972 concert film “Amazing Grace” that Aretha sued to keep from being released, via THR:

Ironically, Franklin’s death could end up perking up a biopic’s chances. In some states, life rights expire with the individual, while in others (like California) they pass to heirs. In any case, Franklin’s family, who will likely control her estate, will probably be at least a little less finicky over minutiae like the casting of grandmothers.

Franklin’s death could also break the logjam that has kept another project in limbo, the never-released 1972 Sidney Pollock concert film Amazing Grace that Franklin had been suppressing with lawsuits and other tactics. The owner of that recently unearthed footage, Alan Elliott, tells THR that he’s hoping to come 
to terms with Franklin’s heirs for permission to finally get the doc in theaters.

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