MGM Aretha Franklin Biopic Sets Liesl Tommy To Direct Jennifer Hudson; Callie Khouri Scripting ‘Respect’

Lelund Durand

MGM has set stage director Liesl Tommy to direct Respect, the feature film about music icon Aretha Franklin. Oscar winning Dreamgirls star Jennifer Hudson was handpicked by Franklin to play her, and Oscar-winning Thelma & Louise and Nashville creator Callie Khouri is writing. Liesl is the first black woman to earn a Tony Award nomination for Best Direction of a Play. The film covers the life of the late Franklin from singing as a child in her father’s church’s choir to becoming an iconic superstar and civil rights activist. MGM Motion Picture Group president Jonathan Glickman announced it.

Tradecraft’s Scott Bernstein is producing with Harvey Mason, Jr., latter a Grammy Award nominated music producer who has written and produced songs for both Franklin and Hudson. Glickman and Adam Rosenberg oversee for the studio.

Tommy got six Tony noms for Eclipsed, including Best Director. Her work includes a 2012 production of Hamlet at California Shakespeare Theatre and Les Misérables. She is also on board to direct Born A Crime, based on Trevor Noah’s autobiography, starring Lupita Nyong’o for Paramount Players. In addition to developing and directing Frozen Live, the multi-media theatrical extravaganza adaptation of the Disney film for the Hyperion Theater in Disneyland, Tommy has also directed episodes of AMC’s Walking Dead, HBO’s Insecure and OWN’s Queen Sugar created by Ava DuVernay.

Respect tracks Franklin’s coming of age to icon status, with 20 No. 1 R&B hits, 18 Grammy Awards en route to becoming the first female to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Said Tommy: “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. 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 with the enormous talents of the soulful Jennifer Hudson, Callie Khouri, and our incredible producers.”

“It is an absolute honor to be a part of bringing Ms. Franklin’s story to audiences who adore her around the world. She is one of the most iconic and talented artists of all time and what a dream come true it is to portray her extraordinary life on screen. 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,” said Hudson.

Tommy is represented by WME, MGMT Entertainment and Schreck Rose Dapello; Khouri is UTA; Hudson CAA. Tradecraft is represented by UTA and Eric Sherman at Ziffren.

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