Ina Mayhew, photographed outside her studio in Lake Hill, New York. Photos: Heather Sten

Meet the Visionary Bringing Aretha Franklin’s Biopic ‘Respect’ to Life

Production design is a White boy’s field, but Ina Mayhew broke that mold

Adrienne Gibbs
Published in
6 min readJun 29, 2020


When the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect comes out (hopefully later this year), you can credit production designer Ina Mayhew for how it looks. It’s her job to create sets and designs that make the location real. It won’t just be Jennifer Hudson, with sass and verve in her role of playing Aretha, who illustrates how the Detroit native became our first lady of soul. Mayhew’s work also helps bring that story to life.

“I study the things I need to build,” says Mayhew, a New York-based designer who is considered a legend by her peers. She has worked extensively with Dolly Parton, Tyler Perry, and Ava DuVernay and was personally tapped to work on the music video for Jay-Z’s 2018 cultural hit “Family Feud.” “You have to get it right,” she says.

Part of getting it right includes studying architecture and art of the time period, the significance of colors and textures in furniture and carpets and wall coverings, plus how those accoutrements interact with the actors and their character’s personalities. In Aretha’s case, since the biopic starts with the singer as a child, Mayhew had the difficult job of piecing together what that neighborhood looked like, what the original house looked like, and even how the staircase was built.

The card-carrying member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences worked several seasons on Queen Sugar, creating the lush sightscapes that distinguish that show from many others. She just built a warehouse in New York that houses all the things she finds and needs to use in her films. And she…



Adrienne Gibbs
Editor for

Director of Content @Medium. Award-winning journalist. Featured in a Beyoncé reel. Before now? EBONY, Netflix, Sun-Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe.