The ZORA Interview

‘Own Your Voice’: Jennifer Hudson on Aretha Franklin and ‘Respect’

The star of the Queen of Soul biopic has the perfect advice for women who lead.

Adrienne Gibbs
ZORA
Published in
5 min readAug 12, 2021

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Jennifer Hudson stars in “Respect,” a biopic about Aretha Franklin. Photo: Bethany Mollenkof/The New York Times/Redux

For Jennifer Hudson, Respect is not just another movie where she stars as a famous person who sings. For this biopic, she embodies her idol, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. The film swings through Franklin’s Detroit church roots, her relationship with her father, and, of course, Franklin’s massive song catalog, much of which provided a backing track to the civil rights movement.

It’s the kind of film with impossible expectations that might make anyone else quiver in their boots. After all, what if you get it wrong? What if the family doesn’t like it? Or the fans? What about the unconventional decision to focus on several decades of Franklin’s life versus a cradle-to-grave examination? But Hudson says none of that ultimately was a concern. Not even pushing back the release date and the closure of movie theaters due to Covid-19 deterred her. Also, it’s fitting that the film arrives this August, released nearly to the day three years ago that the songstress died.

“Well, this project is different; it’s far more personal to me,” says Hudson. “So jitters is a huge part of it, but I think it’s more due to the connection to the project, more so than all the happenings around it. And I think that with content and material that is as strong and solid as this — of a figure such as Aretha Franklin—that [the film] would prevail no matter what’s happening.”

Some reviewers are saying the film is, at best, a songbook where you wait breathlessly for the next cut. But with direction by Liesl Tommy and appearances by Heather Headley, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Marlon Wayans, and Titus Burgess, superfans of the culture will see, hear, and recognize a tale worth discussing over the dinner table or at the summer barbecue.

Hudson talked with ZORA about the film, Franklin’s legacy, and a special Franklin playlist. Here’s what else she had to say.

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Adrienne Gibbs
ZORA
Editor for

Director of Content @Medium. Award-winning Writer. Editor. Mother. Featured on Beyoncé's year in review film.