By Chris Willman
Moviegoers will not just be thinking about Jennifer Hudson in terms of how she fares as a feline over the holidays. In timing that may serve either to capitalize on her appearance in “Cats” or to ameliorate any blowback she might get as part of the critical savaging of the movie musical, or both, a teaser trailer was released Friday that offers a promising first look at Hudson as Aretha Franklin in “Respect,” the biopic due in the fall of 2020.
The minute-long trailer from MGM begins with Hudson silhouetted in sepiatone in some sort of celestial cosmos, singing a verse from the title song nearly a cappella, in a moody arrangement filled as much with portent as soul. But then someone flips the switch on the kind of show-biz lighting that is only found in the earthly realm, with “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” spelled out behind her in giant neon-style letters, not unlike the famous “E-L-V-I-S” signage that became iconic to Elvis Presley fans from the ’60s forward. The band kicks in, and a now frontlit Hudson is close to the spitting image and sound of the Queen of Soul, as we get just a taste of the greatest spelling bee in music history.
It’s just a smidgeon, but fans are likely to at least initially feel that the faith placed in Hudson to pull off the role has been rewarded. Nothing is seen, of course, of Hudson’s costars in the drama, who include Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Mary J. Blige, Audra McDonald, Heather Headley, Tituss Burgess and Marc Maron. The biopic, directed by Liesl Tommy, will cover Franklin’s rise to fame, from being merely the star of her father’s church choir and going through personal adversities to becoming one of the biggest music luminaries of the 1960s, without going into her entire subsequent life.
The film hits theaters Oct. 9, 2020. A title card says an Epic Records soundtrack will be on the way, too.
“Respect,” whose leading actress was signed off on by Franklin before her death 15 months ago, is one of two dramatizations of Franklin’s life set for screens in the coming year. May 2020 will bring National Geographic’s own rendition of her story, “Genius: Aretha,” with Cynthia Erivo playing the late star.