Respect (2021) is a typical biographical drama. It distills a fraction of Aretha Franklin’s life into a series of melodramatic beats that get little or no exploration. Any transcendency to be found is located in the performance of Jennifer Hudson. Franklin apparently chose Hudson to play her herself. Unfortunately the screenplay cannot support Hudson’s complex performance.
Respect also suffers from a number of relatively minor technical issues. For instance, during one sequence where Hudson is performing at a concert the lighting changes drastically between cuts too and from the master wide shot. There are instances in other such films where this has signified a shift in perspective from the objective exterior to the subjective interior of a character but such a model isn’t applicable when the moment in question is of little dramatic importance. Liesl Tommy is a capable enough director so such errors would appear to stem from a desire to prolong a dramatic beat during post-production.
The trailer for Respect promised a biopic with all of the sophistication and authenticity of a Hallmark movie. Luckily the film itself wasn’t quite as bad. Perhaps Respect possesses more redemptive qualities to those viewers who lived through the sixties and seventies. I happened to see Respect with a Baby Boomer who felt that the film successfully evoked a historical moment. Needless to say that I, having been born in the eighties, cannot speak to that personally.
I suspect that if Respect has any impact on the cinema at all it will be in providing further proof that films about historically significant Black Americans are commercially viable for Hollywood. Of course Respect stands on the shoulders of Ray (2004) but its reiteration of what is bankable in terms of box office cannot and should not be undervalued.