Liesl Tommy, the first Black woman to earn a Tony Award nomination, is set to direct “Respect” under Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures, the feature film based on the life of music icon Aretha Franklin.
Tommy is a powerhouse. She will be directing Academy Award, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA and Grammy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, who was personally hand-picked by Franklin to portray her on the big screen.
Penning the screenplay is Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Callie Khouri (“Thelma & Louise” and creator of “Nashville”). The story will follow the rise of Franklin’s career, from a child singing in her father’s church choir to an iconic and international superstar. The announcement was recently made by Jonathan Glickman, president, Motion Picture Group.
Tradecraft’s Scott Bernstein, who produced the groundbreaking bio pic “Straight Outta Compton” about the infamous gangster rappers N.W.A., which garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay, and Harvey Mason Jr., renowned Grammy Award nominated music producer who has written and produced songs for both Aretha Franklin and Jennifer Hudson, will produce. Glickman and Adam Rosenberg, MGM’s co-president of production, are overseeing the project on behalf of the studio.
Tommy is a multiaward-winning stage director, who garnered six Tony Award nominations for “Eclipsed,” including Best Director. She is known for both her provocative world premieres and reimagining classics with racially diverse casts in several shows, including a 2012 production of “Hamlet” at California Shakespeare Theater and an internationally acclaimed production of “Les Misérables.” She is also on board to direct “Born a Crime,” the film adaptation of the autobiography by the same name by Trevor Noah starring Lupita Nyong’o for Paramount Players. In addition to developing and directing “Frozen Live,” the multimedia 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” is the remarkable true story of Aretha Franklin’s journey to find her voice in the midst of the turbulent social and political landscape of 1960s America.
“Over the years and in our many meetings and countless conversations with Aretha, we came to understand the stories she most wanted to share and the moments in her life that made her who she was,” said Mason and Bernstein. “It was an honor to have gotten that insight directly from Ms. Franklin, and we are now taking the utmost care in upholding her legacy. We are thrilled that Jennifer, Ms. Franklin’s first choice, will be portraying her as we bring this inspirational and legendary life story on the big screen as she wanted.”
Tommy said, “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,” said Hudson. “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,”
“Aretha Franklin was indisputably one of the most important cultural and musical forces the world has ever seen,” said Glickman. “Along with our producers, we could not be more excited to have assembled such a tremendous team of Liesl, Callie and the incomparable Jennifer Hudson to bring the Queen of Soul’s iconic story and music to big screens around the world.”