How much of the new Aretha Franklin biopic can you REALLY believe? From an ‘orgy-loving’ preacher father to a husband who ‘roughed her up in public’, Femail separates fact from fiction in Jennifer Hudson’s Respect
- Jennifer Hudson has been praised for performance in the Aretha Franklin biopic
- Yet script criticised for not allowing ‘for a deep enough look’ at Queen of Soul
- Respect is out in the US on August 13 and in the UK on September 10
Jennifer Hudson has been praised for her emotional performance during the Aretha Franklin biopic, yet the script has been criticised for not allowing ‘for a deep enough look’ at the Queen of Soul.
Critics of Respect, which is out in the US on August 13 and in the UK on September 10, lambasted the highly anticipated film yesterday for missing out vital parts of Franklin’s life, while fictionalising other elements.
For instance, the movie leaves out many unsavoury details about the singing sensation’s philandering preacher father, who fathered a child with a 12-year-old member of his congregation.
Elsewhere, the childhood abuse the 18 Grammy Award-winner suffered after becoming pregnant aged 12 is ‘never really broached fully’.
Reviewers also noted how Cissy Houston, mother of famed singer Whitney, and her R&B group The Sweet Inspirations were ‘erased’ from the movie – despite playing an important role in the anthem Ain’t No Way as well as singing back-up to Franklin and touring with her for years.
Here, FEMAIL separates fact from fiction in Respect…
CLAIM: FRANKLIN’S FATHER WASN’T AN ‘ORGY-LOVING PREACHER’
In the film, viewers witness Franklin’s father C. L. Franklin managing her career and pushing for her to leave school to try and get a record deal. Pictured, the two together in 1975
But while this illustrates a tough father-daughter relationship, it arguably fails to showcase just how unsavoury the singing sensation’s parent was. Pictured, Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin, left, and Forest Whitaker as C.L. Franklin in a scene from Respect
In the film, viewers witness Franklin’s father C. L. Franklin managing her career and pushing for her to leave school to try and get a record deal.
But while this illustrates a tough father-daughter relationship, it arguably fails to showcase just how unsavoury the singing sensation’s parent was, with crucial details of his dark past left out.
A philandering preacher whose infidelities ruined his marriage to Franklin’s mother, Pastor C. L. Franklin, played by Forest Whitaker in the production, fathered a child with a 12-year-old member of his congregation.
He moved then from Memphis to set up shop at the New Bethel Baptist Church, at 4210 Hastings Street, in Detroit, and his daughter became a child prodigy in the gospel church.
But he turned his ministry into an orgy party, with Ray Charles describing it as a ‘sex circus’, according to an unauthorised 2014 biography.
Author David Ritz, who was determined to reveal the ‘real’ story after penning an official version 15 years earlier that the singer had completely sanitised, said of the church: ‘High on wine and weed, the party people celebrated the love of the flesh.’
So questionable was C. L. Franklin’s behaviour that when Franklin became pregnant at the age of just 12 – rumours swirled around Detroit that the preacher was the father to her child.
In fact, he was not, but it was a reflection of his reputation rather than his daughter’s that the rumours even surfaced.
CL Franklin’s highly-charged sermons led to him being known as the man with the ‘million-dollar voice’ and he earned thousands of dollars for preaching across the country at various churches.
He was also friends with Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.
Franklin dismissed Ritz’s book as ‘Lies and more lies!’ but none of the sources, including her closest friends and relatives, denied the biography.
CLAIM: SINGER’S FIRST HUSBAND WAS ‘KIND OF ABUSIVE’
Franklin married her first husband, Ted White (pictured together in 1961), just six months after meeting in 1961 when she was 19. They were together for eight years until 1969
The biopic chose not to portray the singer’s first husband as a ‘monster’, admitted Marlon Wayans (pictured left), who plays White in the film
Franklin married her first husband, Ted White, just six months after meeting him in 1961 when she was 19. They were together for eight years until 1969.
He managed Franklin before their separation and collaborated with her on songs, including top 10 single, Think.
But he also ‘didn’t hesitate slapping [Franklin] around and didn’t care who saw him do it,’ according to the singer’s producer, Otis Taylor.
A Time story from 1968 also alleged that White had ‘roughed her up in public at Atlanta’s Regency Hyatt House Hotel’, while Pianist Teddy Harris said: ‘Ted was into something else. He was kind of abusive.’
Yet before her death, Franklin very rarely commented publicly on her first marriage, simply describing him as a ‘take charge kind of guy’ in her autobiography.
But despite the allegations, the biopic chose not to portray the singer’s first husband as a ‘monster’, admitted Marlon Wayans, who plays White in the film.
He told the Independent: ‘I hope Ted White sees the movie and is pleased by the way we handled his character, because we could have painted him as a monster.’
The actor added: ‘He gets big and his insecurities and his jealousy steps in and there goes the little boy attacking his woman because he just can’t handle it. So I think you just give them layers and approach it with a delicate touch.
VERDICT: PARTLY TRUE
CLAIM: ARETHA DUETTED WITH SISTER INSTEAD OF CISSY HOUSTON
Some reviewers noted how Cissy Houston, mother of famed singer Whitney, and her R&B group The Sweet Inspirations (pictured in 1968 performing with Franklin) were ‘erased’ from the movie – despite playing an important role in the anthem Ain’t No Way as well as singing back-up to Franklin and touring with her for years
In Liesl Tommy’s Respect, which covers a 20-year span, from Franklin’s childhood to her landmark 1972 live recording of Amazing Grace, the Detroit singer is seen performing the song Ain’t No Way with her sister Erma (pictured centre in the film, left of Jennifer Hudson)
In Liesl Tommy’s Respect, which covers a 20-year span, from Franklin’s childhood to her landmark 1972 live recording of Amazing Grace, the Detroit singer is seen performing the song Ain’t No Way with her sister Erma.
However, in real life, it was Whitney Houston’s mother Cissy who recorded the backing track – but she fails to get a mention in the production.
In the movie, Cissy and her group The Sweet Inspirations are erased, according to Showbiz411, who insists ‘it’s very disrespectful to history, to Cissy and to the audience.
Cissy Houston and the Sweet Inspirations were back up artists for Franklin, as well as many other top acts in the 1960s and 1970s, including Elvis Presley.
By not mentioning Cissy, and failing to add in a young Whitney who would often join her mother while she worked, the filmmakers also missed the connection between Franklin and her eventual cover hit of I Say A Little Prayer (1968).
She recorded the song because Cissy’s niece, Dionne Warwick, had enjoyed an original hit with it.
Franklin’s younger sister Carolyn penned Ain’t No Way, which was recorded by the Queen of Soul as part of her 12th studio album Lady Soul. The track spent eight weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
CLAIM: PARENTS’ HAD A SMOOTH RELATIONSHIP
In one scene of the movie, Franklin is captured as a little girl sitting at the piano with her mother Barbara, played by musical theatre dynamo Audra McDonald
Aged six, Franklin endured the separation of her mother – never explicitly said in the film – because her father was sleeping around.
Her mother Barbara left their home due to her husband C.L. Franklin’s philandering and moved to Buffalo, New York.
But despite previous reports, Barbara did not abandon her children, with author Nick Salvatore’s biography of C. L. Franklin emphasising that the mother visited her youngsters in Detroit.
They are also said to have made trips during summer vacations to stay with her in Buffalo.
Barbara died from a heart attack aged 32 when Franklin was almost ten and the children were largely brought up by a string of their father’s secretaries and girlfriends.
In one scene of the movie, Franklin is captured as a little girl sitting at the piano with her mother Barbara, played by musical theatre star Audra McDonald.
Barbara, herself a gospel singer, lovingly teaches her daughter to sing and tells her: ‘Singing is sacred, Re, and you shouldn’t do it just because somebody wants you to.’
Franklin’s mother sternly reminds her at the piano: ‘What’s most important is that you are treated with dignity and respect.’
But while audiences are treated to that emotional moment, critics suggested it fails to touch upon some of the more ‘painful headlines’ surrounding the global star’s life – including her ‘parents’ fraught relationship’, noted IndieWire’s Kate Erbland.
CLAIM: FRANKLIN DIDN’T HAVE DECADES-LONG BATTLE WITH HER WEIGHT
For years the Queen of Soul (pictured in 2012) battled with her weight, and said she spent decades starving herself to stay slim – yet this ordeal wasn’t mentioned in the flattering film
Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin in a scene from Respect, which is out in the UK on September 10
For years the Queen of Soul battled with her weight, and said she spent decades starving herself to stay slim – yet this ordeal wasn’t mentioned in the film.
‘For a long time I suffered so much trying to be what other people expected me to be and look like,’ the singer, who died in 2018, aged 76 at her home in Detroit after battling pancreatic cancer, previously told a US website.
‘I definitely was never meant to be a model type walking down a runway – I’m just Aretha singing what she feels in her heart and soul.’
Franklin, who also had an alcohol addiction, managed to kick that habit in the 1970s as part of a wider move to re-brand her image, but her addiction to food remained.
In her late years, the singer alternated between weight loss and weight gain as she appeared to struggle with her diet.
When turning 69, the star revealed her birthday wish to be a US size 16 – a UK size 18 – by her big day on March 25.
Having already lost 25lbs at the time after ditching the hamburgers for salads, she said: ‘By my birthday I will be a 16 – that’s my birthday wish. And I just want to continue my super maintained health.
‘I look wonderful to myself at [US] size 14 or 16. But 16 is OK, too. I will rest my case at 16.’
CLAIM: FRANKLIN HAD ISSUES WITH ALCOHOL
The singer (pictured in 1969) was smoking up to three packs of cigarettes a days and getting drunk before performing during her first marriage, according to longtime booking agent and friend Ruth Bowen
Marlon Wayans as Ted White (pictured centre) and Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin
The diva battled alcoholism for much of her life – as seen in the Respect movie as she drinks to block out the harshness of her life.
The alcohol helped numb the pain of her terrible marriage, said friends.
At a gig in Columbus, Georgia, in May 1967 she fell off the stage and broke her arm saying she had been blinded by the stage lights – but some suspected she had been tipsy.
She was arrested for disorderly behaviour in 1969 and cancelled concerts unexpectedly.
‘She was drinking so much we thought she was on the verge of a breakdown,’ her sister Carolyn said of Franklin during her time with White.
Franklin was smoking up to three packs of cigarettes a days and getting drunk before performing – ‘using booze to numb the pain of her lousy marriage’, longtime booking agent and friend Ruth Bowen stated: ‘Liquor was just making her sloppy.’
Thankfully, the singer was able to kick alcohol in the Seventies following her separation from White.
CLAIM: FRANKLIN WAS FRIENDS WITH MARTIN LUTHER KING JR
Aretha Franklin (pictured left) and Martin Luther King Jr. on stage together in Detroit in 1968
Respect details the singer’s activism in the civil rights movement and showcases her friendship with Martin Luther King Jr.
This companionship was true in real life since her father, who was a civil-rights activist and organised the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom, was close friends with King.
As a child, Franklin sometimes sang with King on the gospel tours her father took her on and was a huge supporter of his.
In an interview months after his assassination in 1968, Franklin struggled to detail her emotions.
‘I just can’t find words to express how I feel,’ she told a Canadian newspaper that year, calling King’s death ‘a great tragedy’.
Franklin later sang Precious Lord at King’s funeral in 1968 and performed at the dedication of his memorial, in 2011.
She was also a financial lifeline to the civil rights organisation he co-founded.
Aretha Franklin’s childhood trauma wasn’t ‘fully broached’ by Respect biopic, says critic
Franklin gave birth to the first of her four sons just two months after her 13th birthday, calling him Clarence after her father.
It speaks volumes for her father’s vulgar reputation that rumours spread that he was the baby’s father. But according to biographer Ritz, the father was first believed to be a boy from school.
Franklin (pictured in 1960) gave birth to the first of her four sons just two months after her 13th birthday, calling him Clarence after her father
But Franklin’s tough childhood – which is likely to blame in part for her alcohol and food addiction – isn’t explored enough in the film (pictured) for some critics
However, it was later reported in one of her handwritten wills, discovered in 2019, that Clarence’s father was actually Edward Jordan – whom she went on to have son Edward with in 1957.
But Franklin’s tough childhood – which is likely to blame in part for her alcohol and food addiction – isn’t explored enough for some critics.
Brian Truitt of USA Today said Respect ‘often loses focus, and sticks to its timeline without much nuance’.
‘The movie doesn’t shy away from the dark points but doesn’t expand on them either – one scene hints at sexual abuse as a child, and is subtly referenced later, though is never really broached fully,’ he said.
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