“Respect” examines Aretha Franklin’s early life and legacy

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There are things that the average music fan did not know about Aretha Franklin. The new movie “Respect” (in theaters only) explores the private side of the Gospel singer turned soul icon. The film covers aspects of Franklin’s life that might shock them. Still, “Respect” is a movie that needs to be seen. Aside from what it portrays about Franklin’s life, it also shows the inequality between genders, sexes, and ages. The hurt Franklin experienced appeared to have made her stronger. The depiction of the dark elements of the performer’s life reinforces that Franklin more than deserved the accolades and awards she would win later in life.

Before “the Queen of Soul”

The film does an admirable job of showing the bond between young Aretha Louise Franklin and her mother, Barbara. Even when Barbara is divorced from Franklin’s father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, she dotes on her young daughter and helps foster her musical talent.

Franklin’s father was a celebrity of sorts. A popular minister who was involved with the Civil Rights movement, was also known for his Friday night parties. Secular, carnal events in which his young daughter could often be found singing. When the houseful of partygoers leads to one young man leads to Franklin being violated, the events are at first implied: the young man is shown going into Franklin’s room, and asking her if she had a boyfriend (she is roughly 11 at the time). Then, he closes the door and the next scene arrives. Franklin stops speaking for a while as a child, and no one seems to figure out the silence is a result of trauma. It is not until Franklin is an adult, drinking heavily and seeing flashbacks of her early life that audiences find out exactly what happened when the door to her room closed. She stands at the kitchen sink and turns to the side – – audiences can see she is pregnant. Franklin’s first child will be born when she is 12 years old; her second will be born when she is 14 years old.

Getting married at 18 did not turn out to be the best thing for Franklin, either. She married a music impresario, Ted White (played skillfully by Marlon Wayans). Franklin’s father does not like Ted. Ted found issues with the white musicians at the famed Muscle Shoals studio. Thankfully, others believed in Franklin’s talent, and she was able to record.

But before Franklin ever got to Muscle Shoals, she performed in a club. One of her musical heroes, Dinah Washington, (played by Mary J. Blige) was in attendance. Franklin’s mistake was playing a song that Washington considered “hers.” In a table-flipping rage, Washington informs Franklin that you do not play the Queen’s songs when she is present.

“Respect”: a story of Aretha Franklin full of stars

Such a powerful story, full of classic songs, childhood trauma and domestic violence, requires the right people to bring strong personalities to life. The cast of “Respect” reads almost like a “Who’s-Who” of entertainment. Wayans and Blige are just the beginning of the list. Franklin is played by Jennifer Hudson. Her father, C.L. Franklin, is played by Forest Whitaker. Audra McDonald, Tituss Burgess, Marc Maron, Hailey Kilgore, Lodric Collins (as Smokey Robinson), Tate Donovan and others fill the cast. One actress with a connection to Fort Wayne, Indiana,Tony Award-winner Heather Hadley, plays Clara Ward, a Gospel singer with whom C.L. Franklin has a long-term relationship.

A legend is born: “Respect”

Seeing what Franklin experienced as a child and young woman explains the inspiration for so many of her greatest hits. Her perseverance allows her to earn audiences’ respect posthumously. Live footage of her performances helps moviegoers remember that this was not “just a movie.” The film is an effort to catalog the potentially soul-shattering events that could have made Franklin another tragedy of the time periods in which she lived. But she kept her faith, and she kept singing. Then, one day, a girl who was pregnant at age 12, became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Franklin’s list of accolades is impressive; learning how hard she had to work to get them is heart-wrenching. “Respect” is worth watching.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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