Aretha Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson lands director Liesl Tommy

Tony Award-nominated director Liesl Tommy will direct MGM’s upcoming Aretha Franklin film, “Respect.”
(Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

The Aretha Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul has found its director and screenwriter.

Stage director Liesl Tommy will helm “Respect,” the long-gestating MGM feature film about the late icon’s life and music, and Oscar winner Callie Khouri will pen the screenplay, according to a Thursday statement from Jonathan Glickman, the president of Motion Picture Group.

Tommy directed an exceptionally vivid production of Danai Gurira’s 2016 play, “Eclipsed.” The landmark drama earned six Tony Award nominations, including for best director, making Tommy the first black woman to earn a nod in that category.


Her repertoire, which includes “Hamlet,” “Les Misérables” and the Disneyland Resort’s “Frozen Live” show, aims to reimagine classics with racially diverse casts. She’s also on board to direct “Born a Crime,” a film adaptation of comedian Trevor Noah’s autobiography starring Lupita Nyong’o, who also starred in “Eclipsed.”

“The story of Aretha Franklin’s journey from child prodigy in Detroit to international supernova is rife with struggle and triumph, making her life one of the great American stories of all time,” Tommy said in a statement. “As a filmmaker there is no greater gift than to be able to bring this transcendent chronicle of a woman’s fight for self-realization to visual life.”

Tommy also shared her eagerness to work with “the enormous talents” of Oscar winners Hudson and Khouri.

Screenwriter Callie Khouri will pen the script for the forthcoming Aretha Franklin biopic "Respect."
(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)

Hudson was personally handpicked by Franklin, who died in August at age 76, to portray her on the big screen, and her starring role was announced early last year. She also performed “Amazing Grace” at Franklin’s funeral.

Khouri won her Oscar for “Thelma & Louise” and created the country-music drama “Nashville,” and her screenplay for “Respect” follows the rise of Franklin’s career.

“Straight Outta Compton’s” Scott Bernstein and Grammy-nominated music producer Harvey Mason Jr., who has written and produced songs for both Franklin and Hudson, will serve as producers of the film. Glickman and Adam Rosenberg, MGM’s co-president of production, are overseeing the project on behalf of the studio.

Hudson, who won a supporting-actress Oscar for her 2006 role in “Dreamgirls,” regarded being part of Franklin’s story “an absolute honor” and said that it’s “a dream come true” to portray her.

“I could not be more excited to be working alongside Liesl Tommy, a brilliant and thoughtful director, who is no doubt the perfect choice to lead the film,” the singer-actress said in Thursday’s statement.

Follow me: @NardineSaad