Hudson shines in the lead role, before the cameras and behind the microphones.
Her castmates deliver with distinction. The script, music, and cinematography are first rate. And these elements all compellingly depict the formative years of one of America’s most beloved recording and concert artists.
But this is more than just a pretty picture.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T is the antidote to CRT.
Respect detonates three core tenets of Critical Race Theory:
a) Whites are racist oppressors.
b) Blacks are downtrodden victims of white bigotry.
c) Cultural appropriation is evil. Each race should horde its aesthetic and stylistic offerings among its own people. Whites, especially, must keep their greedy hands away from anything aesthetic that lacks European roots.
Intentionally or not, Respect incinerates these false and disgusting ideas that undergird CRT.
Respect spans the early 1950s to the early ’70s. We meet young Aretha (the skillful Skye Dakota Turner) as a little girl who sings to a group of adult guests in the Detroit home of her father, Baptist minister C.L. Franklin (yet another powerful star turn by Forest Whitaker).
Reverend Franklin’s living room is filled with several dozen of his and Mama Franklin’s (Kimberly Scott) friends and loved ones. They are sharply dressed professionals.
The men sport suits. The women sparkle in gowns. They’re elegant, poised, well-spoken, educated, and prosperous.
Even when things were terrible for so many blacks in the 1950s, they somehow held their heads high, with dignity. If CRT huckster Ibram X. Kendi rode a time machine back to Reverend Franklin’s gathering and told these black folks that they were victims, they correctly would have been shown him the door and shoved him off the porch.
As the film progresses, we see Aretha, her father, songbird sisters, and a host of other black people who book, manage, and attend to them all grow wealthy as daddy’s princess becomes the Queen of Soul.
As tour dates, gold records, and royalty checks pile up, “oppressed” and “victim” are the last two words on the minds of these black victors.
With a light touch, Respect dismantles another key shibboleth of CRT: Whites spend all day and night hating and hurting black people.
Au contraire, this picture demonstrates how blacks and whites have worked together to better themselves and their world.
Aretha gets her first big break thanks to the highly influential John Hammond (a low-key Tate Donovan), a legendary producer and divining rod for talent. Hammond was not merely white. He was a Vanderbilt.
As such, the CRTniks would argue, Hammond’s status as a Caucasian scion of capitalist Ă¼ber-wealth should have fortified his anti-black cruelty.
No such luck.
Hammond signed Aretha to Columbia Records and — as he had done for Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Big Joe Turner, and many more — Hammond championed her through her fledgling years in the music industry.
Later, Aretha meets another “white oppressor” named Jerry Wexler (played with gruff verve by Marc Maron). This equally legendary executive took Aretha beyond her initial, jazz-oriented work with Hammond.
He helped her flourish into a global superstar by throwing Atlantic Records’ full corporate weight behind her ambition to become a soul and R&B singer with crossover rock and pop appeal.
One of Wexler’s secrets was to introduce Aretha to an extremely well-regarded and soulful musical ensemble who operated out of FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Their talents meshed perfectly with Aretha’s creative vision. And they all were Southern, white, good ’ol boys.
Respect shows Aretha and her largely black entourage collaborating with these and other white entertainers and businessmen.
While there is plenty of give-and-take among them, things come to blows only once, thanks to Aretha’s volatile first husband Ted White (by turns charming and repulsive in the talented hands of Marlon Wayans).
His suspicions of white people spill over, even as FAME’s Rick Hall (Myk Watford) tries to make peace.
That hothead aside, these black and white Americans labored together, made music together, and got rich together. Indeed, they enriched the entire planet with their artistry. The gorgeous results of their interracial harmony thoroughly demolish CRT’s ugliness.
Respect also flattens CRT’s diabolical attack on cultural cross-pollination, which it slams as “cultural appropriation.” This notion is as nasty as it is absurd.
At some level, all culture involves appropriation.
The magic that Tuscan and Milanese chefs craft with pasta would not exist had Marco Polo not brought noodles from China to Italy in the late 13th Century.
John Coltrane, Maceo Parker, and Clarence Clemons are just a few of the black men who would have blown hard into their empty hands, had the saxophone not been invented in Belgium in 1846.
And black authors from the Harlem Renaissance’s Langston Hughes to Nobel laureate Toni Morrison would have attracted far fewer readers had they written in Yoruba rather than English — a language rooted in overwhelmingly white Great Britain.
Likewise, many of Respect’s musical numbers show blacks and whites using instruments, rhythms, and songs borrowed from each other’s backgrounds and then polished even further.
The gospel-music-tradition from which Aretha emerged had a major influence on rock music since its inception and on specific acts who dipped their buckets into that deep well.
The Doobie Brothers’ hit song “Jesus Is Just Alright” began as a 1966 gospel tune by Arthur Reid Reynolds of the Art Reynolds Singers.
The Byrds gave the tune a test flight in 1969. The Doobies’ 1972 cover added electric guitars and a Hammond B-3 to these two, lighter arrangements.
The result? A chart climber, an enduring classic-rock staple, and the source of lush royalty checks to “A. Reynolds,” whom the Doobie Brothers credited on the song’s label.
Similarly, Paul Simon himself wrote “Loves Me Like a Rock.” This 1973 song’s unmistakable gospel flavor sprang from the breathtaking, Sunday-choir vocals of the Dixie Hummingbirds, a black spiritual quartet launched in Greensville, South Carolina.
This song hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a certified gold record — great news for Rhymin’ Simon and the Hummingbirds, both recognized on the old 45 RPM single.
What the CRT thugs condemn as “cultural appropriation” is what normal humans praise as inspiration. And these are just two among millions of artworks in which black culture weaves into white culture, white culture blends into black culture, and beauty happens.
While I am not religious, Respect also struck me as one of the most openly, unapologetically, and proudly Christian movies that I can recall.
Aretha and others of faith rely on their Christian beliefs and backgrounds to leap life’s seemingly unscalable hurdles. The very last shot before the credits should confirm this observation for those so inclined.
Aretha Franklin earned four platinum records, 14 gold records, and scored 20 No. 1 R&B singles among the 75 million units she sold. She won 18 Grammy Awards and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1994, Aretha became the youngest person selected for the Kennedy Center Honors. In 2005, G.W. Bush bestowed upon Franklin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.
Respect celebrates black success and black excellence. CRT attacks whites as racists and infantilizes blacks as hopeless losers who can’t make it, can’t survive meritocracy, and can’t even do math.
In a badly needed contrast, Respect shows how blacks in general, and one amazing black woman in particular, can thrive beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Its stars — Academy Award winners Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whittaker — underscore this point through their mere presence and, more so, Oscar-worthy performances.
America must go full Nagasaki on Critical Race Theory and, instead, lift on its shoulders those who are — as Aretha Franklin once sang — young, gifted, and black.