Full ‘Respect’ Cast Revealed for MGM’s Aretha Franklin Biopic

     October 18, 2019


The life of music legend Aretha Franklin is on its way to the big screen in Respect, and today, Metro Goldwyn Mayer announced the rest of the cast. Joining Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul, will be Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy-winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Marlon Wayans (Requiem for a Dream), Marc Maron (Joker, Glow), Tate Donovan (Argo), and Emmy nominee Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). The film will also star Grammy winners Mary J. Blige and Audra McDonald, and Tony nominees Saycon Sengbloh and Hailey Kilgore.

Franklin, who passed away on August 16, 2018, had personally hand-picked Hudson to portray her. The film will track her journey from singing in her father’s church as a child, to her meteoric rise to international fame.


Image via 20th Television

MGM is hoping to follow the success of recent music biographies, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. The former won four Oscars, including Best Actor for Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. It was also nominated for Best Picture.

Respect, the first authorized feature film based on Franklin’s life, will be helmed by television director Liesl Tommy (Insecure, The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones). The project marks her feature debut. The script was written by The Americans scribe, Tracey Scott Wilson.

Tommy said this of Respect:

“I am thrilled with the incredibly talented cast we have assembled for our film, and I’m so proud that Ms. Franklin entrusted us to tell her story and to share it with the world. As a storyteller, hers is the kind of story we all dream of telling. Her music has inspired me since I was a little girl, and the milestones of her life and career have shown us all how to strive and thrive. To have this powerhouse group of actors – and the phenomenal talent of Jennifer Hudson in this iconic role – means we have the chance of making this film as transcendent as her glorious life and legacy.”

Check out a breakdown of the cast and their roles below:

  • Forest Whitaker stars as Reverend CL Franklin. Known as the man with the “Million-Dollar Voice,” Franklin served as the pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. Franklin was also the father of the American singer and songwriter Aretha Franklin and her manager early on in her career.
  • Marlon Wayans stars as Ted White, Aretha’s first husband.
  • Audra McDonald stars as Barbara Franklin, Aretha’s mother.
  • Saycon Sengbloh (Broadway’s Eclipsed, CW’s In the Dark, ABC’s Scandal) stars as Erma Franklin, Aretha’s eldest sister.
  • Hailey Kilgore (Broadway’s Once on This Island, NBC’s The Village, Amblin/Apple’s Amazing Stories) stars as Carolyn Franklin, Aretha’s sister.
  • After a worldwide casting search, the role of young Aretha Franklin will be played by Skye Dakota Turner (Broadway’s Young Anna Mae in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical).

Music legends will be played by:

  • Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) stars as famed recording artist Dinah Washington.
  • Heather Headley (Broadway’s Aida) will play Clara Ward, the famed gospel artist and leader of The Famous Ward Sisters.
  • Tituss Burgess stars as Reverend Dr. James Cleveland, who was known as the “King of Gospel.”
  • Marc Maron stars as legendary Atlantic Records music producer Jerry Wexler.
  • Tate Donovan stars as John Hammond, Columbia Records’ influential music producer.

Scott Bernstein (Straight Outta Compton, The Turning) and Grammy nominated music producer Harvey Mason Jr. will produce the flick.

Bernstein and Mason Jr. were honored to have known Aretha, saying this of her and the project:

“We were given the rare privilege to work with Ms. Franklin directly to curate the stories she most wanted to share and the moments in her life that made her who she was. Over the years, she imparted to us how important it was to her that we share her story on the big screen and how important it was to have Jennifer in this role. To have that kind of deeply personal trust and insight from Ms. Franklin was nothing short of amazing for everyone involved.”

Fans of Aretha can look forward to such classics as “Respect,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” “Dr. Feelgood,” just to name a few, which the movie will exclusively feature.

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