*The upcoming MGM film “RESPECT,” starring Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, will follow the rise of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The story follows her career from a child singing in her father’s church’s choir to her international superstardom.
Producer Scott Bernstein spoke with EURweb during filming in Atlanta, about what new things we can expect to learn about Aretha in the movie.
The film begins in 1952, shortly before the death of Aretha’s mother. one of the things she wanted people to understand is how pivotal her mother was to her life. Her mother passed away when Aretha was 10.
Bernstein spent hours talking to Aretha and others close to her to make sure he could tell an accurate story.
“You mostly hear about her famous father. It’s a mother/daughter story. It’s a father/daughter story. It’s a movie about family. I talked to Aretha off and on for four years.”
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The film spans from the early 1950s through the late 70s/ early 80s. When asked about elements of the musical legend’s life that didn’t make the film, Bernstein said:
“Sometimes we have to leave a story out because it doesn’t fit with the movie.”
“When dealing with real-life people, their personal lives, and delicate subject matter, long conversations are necessary. He went through a similar thing during “Straight Out of Compton.”
“Sometimes, you don’t put those things in. Sometimes you find a way to add them subtly, and the person will see it and understand why it needed to be there.”
“RESPECT” reveals details about the singer’s life that you may not have been aware of, for example, her struggles with alcohol. Bernstein compares Aretha’s early life struggles to that of Superheroes and Bernstein says, “this would be like her origin story before she becomes the superstar and develops her superpowers.”
“Aretha’s life phases were shown through her albums,” he added. “Whatever she was feeling or going through at the time, she sang about. It’s a story about a woman – a woman who sang about love and loss but had to learn through it.”
“Aretha had nine failed albums on Columbia before finally scoring a hit. It’s in the late 1960s when she truly finds her voice, through a combination of jazz, gospel & her version of soul,” Bernstein reminds. “Franklin’s musical style expressed civil empowerment, women’s rights & respect. It healed people.”
Part of what drove the producer to pursue the project was the idea that the world hasn’t moved forward since the 60s. Her music is a touchstone of all of our lives.
“She’s (was) as human as the rest of us. Her music helped change the world. Her albums tell a story. Her songs are telling the story of her life, even if she didn’t write them.”
All of the performance scenes are sung live. Jennifer Hudson believes that singing is the character, and therefore she has to sing. There are several Queen of Soul staples in the film, including: “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “Respect.”
Skye Dakota Turner, as young Aretha, Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Emmy winner Forest Whitaker plays the Rev. C.L. Franklin. Marlon Wayans plays husband-manager Ted White, Marc Maron as Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler, Tony, Grammy and Emmy winner Audra McDonald as her mother; Multiple Grammy-winning, Academy Award and, Golden Globe nominee Mary J. Blige also appear in the film.
“RESPECT” debuts in theaters on August 13.