Admittedly, my sole interest in the Aretha Franklin biopic was to illustrate why biopics are bad for black people.
Biopics complicate the inherently contentious relationship that the black collective has with the past. Though our history does not begin with abduction, this abduction marks the beginning of our historical mutilation. It marks an integral moment of our historical transition from subject to object, from person to “for-profit” property, a dynamic metaphorical encompassed in the biopic genre.
Biopics remind those of the black collective that the figures we grew to love, the songs and sounds that define our lives, do so as a product of strategy. Additionally, the “revisions” applied to the supposed subject’s history in said biopics elucidate that entertainment continues to take precedence over integrity and truth.
“Respect” depicts the legend, the queen of soul as a Tyler Perry-esque heroine-poisoned by “bad” black men, sex and alcohol and saved by the gospel.
Soiling Franklin’s image with a sensual if not hyper sexual portrayal places an undeserving angle on her early pregnancies. While a premature if not advanced sexuality is one of the most well-known affects of a sexual prowess awakened too soon, the film’s portrayal of a sensual if not lustful Franklin as what fomented her adult relationships is a careless if not callous disregard for her abducted youth.
Hudson’s vocal performance is easily the star of the film as her efforts to channel Franklin’s soulful sound will raise the hairs on your back. But in the very same moment that Hudson’s extraordinary talent moves you, you realize that Hudson’s vocal gift is not enough to capture the totality of Franklin’s legacy (or salvage a poorly executed film). Franklin’s voice remains an amalgamation of her life experiences and the lives that precede and follow hers. Her voice tells a story not fit for the big or small screen, as both remain devoted to caricaturing black people to ensure their own survival.
I say this to say that the most pristine portrait of Franklin’s life is best conveyed in the footage that plays as the credits roll. The footage captures Franklin in a 2015 performance at the Kennedy Center. Draped in fur and a nude-colored gown, Franklin looked every bit of the queen she is and her voice, seasoned with the flavors of a life well-lived, retained its youthful sweetness in Franklin’s vocal portrait of distinction.
Franklin’s voice in this unforgettable performance articulated what no other narrative form could. Thus, the film’s closing footage elucidates its shortcomings and underscores that an artists’s best biopic is their art.
Moreover, lives remain best archived in the legacies they leave behind, not films cultivated to ensure that their time on earth remains for profit.
May the Queen of Soul Rest in Peace.