Jennifer Hudson on competing Aretha Franklin project: ‘If it’s not a film, it’s nothing’

Cynthia Erivo will play soul's queen on cable TV, but Hudson says Franklin wanted a big screen.

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Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson recently offered her opinion on a portrayal project that will, like the one in which she’s starring, celebrate the life of late legendary singer Aretha Franklin

The National Geographic network’s limited series Genius: Aretha is slated to star Cynthia Erivo as Franklin. 

Jennifer Hudson performs onstage at January 2019’s tribute to Aretha Franklin, a night titled “Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen Of Soul,” at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for NARAS)

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is the showrunner for Genius: Aretha. She’ll also executive produce alongside Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, music mogul Clive Davis, Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman and Ken Biller of Fox 21 Television Studios and Imagine Television Studios.

Despite Genius: Aretha‘s impressive team, Hudson told Entertainment Weekly that Franklin was “adamant that [her life] be a film. If it’s not a film, it’s nothing. I’m just honored that she picked me to play her. I mean, who can say that? And again, I would have never done it without her wishes.”

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Hudson’s film, the Franklin biopic Respect, is currently slated to be released on Jan. 15, 2021 after a limited release on Christmas Day. 

In her wide-ranging EW interview, Hudson talked about her relationship with Franklin, sharing that she still occasionally re-reads their text chains for inspiration. 

Respect also stars Forest Whitaker as Franklin’s famous father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, alongside Audra McDonald, Mary J. Blige and Marlon Wayans. 

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The film’s director, Liesl Tommy, said that the film focuses on “a finite period” that will help audiences understand “how she became who she became.” 

Respect begins in 1940 and ends in 1972. Much of the movie is centered on Franklin’s gospel roots. 

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The competing project, Genius: Aretha, is another in a series of National Geographic scripted limited-series projects. Previous ones have included stories of the lives of Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein. This version will focus on a longer time period of Franklin’s life.

Production on Genius: Aretha had been halted during the coronavirus pandemic but recently resumed shooting in Atlanta. The date for the series release has not been confirmed. Deadline is reporting that the Disney-owned channel is likely to put forth the project before the theatrical release of Respect

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