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Jennifer Hudson pays 'Respect' to Detroit during Charles H. Wright visit

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Actress Jennifer Hudson stands agains the backdrop of a mural for the Aretha Franklin biopic "Respect" outside the Charles H. Wright Museum Sunday. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

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Jennifer Hudson popped out of a black SUV on Brush St. outside of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Sunday afternoon, a small entourage of handlers and representatives in tow. She wore a gold dress and bright red lipstick, and she was clearly impressed by the tall block letters outside the museum that spell out "Respect," the title of the upcoming movie she stars in as Aretha Franklin. 

"I want these letters in my house!" the Oscar winner said as she made her way toward them to pose for a series of photos before a small group of assembled media.  

Jennifer Hudson poses outside the Charles Wright Museum's light-up RESPECT letters in Detroit on Sunday during a conversation on the film "Respect," in which Hudson plays Aretha Franklin.
Jennifer Hudson poses outside the Charles Wright Museum's light-up RESPECT letters in Detroit on Sunday during a conversation on the film "Respect," in which Hudson plays Aretha Franklin.
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Hudson, who also wore a gold necklace that spelled out the word "Respect," was on hand at the Wright Museum as part of a whirlwind tour of Detroit tied to the movie, which hits theaters nationwide on Aug. 13.

She started the day at New Bethel Baptist Church, she made an appearance at the the Detroit Historical Museum for its opening of a commemorative exhibit on Franklin and she was on her way to a private screening of "Respect" Sunday night at the Emagine Royal Oak, where she'll watch the film with members of Franklin's family, among other invited guests. 

After posing in front of the block letters, which were installed by Detroit's Prop Art Studio last week, Hudson made her way over to a "Respect" mural that is installed in front of the museum, which was painted by Detroit artist Desiree Kelly. Hudson posed for pictures next to Kelly in front of the mural and then signed it in the bottom right hand corner. Her inscription: "Respectfully, Jennifer Hudson." 

Jennifer Hudson signs a mural by artist Desiree Kelly outside the Charles H. Wright Museum. Jennifer Hudson signs a mural by artist Desiree Kelly outside the Charles H. Wright Museum. Jennifer Hudson signs a mural by artist Desiree Kelly outside the Charles H. Wright Museum. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Hudson then made her way into the museum for a brief cocktail reception where she mingled with guests, including impeccably dressed Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Craig Strong and WDIV (Channel 4) anchor Evrod Cassimy, before participating in a 20-minute discussion of the film alongside "Respect" director Liesl Tommy. The chat was conducted by Charles H. Wright's president and CEO, Neil Barclay. 

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Actress Jennifer Hudson
I don't take it lightly. But it was her encouragement that helped me get through it. But it was also my dream, let's not forget that, to want to play her.

"I don't take it lightly," Hudson said of playing Franklin, a role for which she was personally hand-picked by the Queen of Soul. "But it was her encouragement that helped me get through it.

"But it was also my dream, let's not forget that, to want to play her," said Hudson. She said the entire cast and crew was on board to honor Franklin in the movie, which led to a harmonious set while filming. "We knew what we were there to do, and who we were there representing." 

Jennifer Hudson outside the Charles Wright Museum's with a mural by artist Desiree Kelly on Sunday.
Jennifer Hudson outside the Charles Wright Museum's with a mural by artist Desiree Kelly on Sunday.
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Earlier, the stars of "Respect" joined family to honor Franklin's life at teh Detroit HIstorical Museum, which unveiled Franklin's handprints in Legends Plaza, making her the 31st person included. The handprints, which were created during the dedication of Aretha Franklin Way in 2017, are now on permanent display in the plaza.

Sunday's unveiling took place just before the opening of a commemorative exhibit on Franklin, which chronicles her life up to her death in 2018. The temporary exhibit includes artifacts from her life as well as props and outfits used in "Respect," which is being scheduled for released Aug.ust 13.

Visitors like Mary Jones of Detroit were pleased to see the exhibit on Franklin. Jones said she got to the museum a half-hour before it opened to see it on Sunday.

"Detroiters should come down and take a look at this display," Jones said, noting Franklin's deep commitment to the city she grew up in.

The biopic tracks Franklin's rise from a church singer to international star. Franklin was known for songs including "A Natural Woman" and her 1967 hit "Respect," from which the title of the movie is pulled. Having started her recording music at age 14, Franklin received 18 Grammy Awards over the course of her career.

Director Tommy, a Tony nominee for 2016's "Eclipsed," makes her feature film debut with "Respect." She came into it a mega-fan of Franklin and her work — she said she's been listening to Aretha since she was in the womb — and said she had a clear vision for the story she wanted to tell. 

"When it comes to Aretha Franklin, I have no chill," Tommy said. She came into her initial meeting about the film "completely prepared" with pages of notes, and a story already in her head, exploring the theme of, in her words, "how does the woman with the greatest voice in the world not know what her own voice was?"

Tommy said authenticity was key, because Aretha was authentic, and she wanted live singing on set. She says her pet peeve with music biopics is there's never enough music in them. "I knew I was going to let the music play," she said.

Jennifer Hudson (left) signs an autograph for Jacob Matlia outside the Charles Wright Museum's light-up RESPECT letters.
Jennifer Hudson (left) signs an autograph for Jacob Matlia outside the Charles Wright Museum's light-up RESPECT letters.
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

And Tommy said she knew she wanted the church to play an important role in the film, and conceived of "Respect" both beginning and ending in church. 

The movie was filmed in Atlanta and wrapped before the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused its release to be delayed several times.  

Hudson said there's a lot to be gleaned from the film. 

"I feel like there's so many takeaways, I feel like it's a matter of what it is you need," she said. "There's things in there for women, there's things in there for people who feel like they don't have a voice, there's things in there for people who have been through things in life. To me, it's a testimony. (Franklin's) life is a testimony, and it shows that we all go through things. But if she can prevail, then so can we." 

Jennifer Hudson (center) takes a photo with supporters inside the Charles Wright Museum in Detroit .
Jennifer Hudson (center) takes a photo with supporters inside the Charles Wright Museum in Detroit .
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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