For Tracey Scott Wilson, Aretha Franklin was the “soundtrack of my childhood.” Now, Tracey has penned the ultimate tribute to the Queen of Soul serving as the screenwriter for the singer’s biopic Respect, out in theaters now. “Honestly, it’s been the honor of my life to get the opportunity to tell this story,” Tracey told HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY.
Tracey admitted it was “absolutely overwhelming” to write this biopic and to “write this story for Jennifer Hudson as well.” Jennifer was notably chosen by Aretha Franklin to play her in a biopic. “It was a tremendous, tremendous, tremendous responsibility. I just really wanted to get it right,” Tracey continued.
Before Aretha’s death in 2018, Jennifer was able to meet Aretha. Tracey noted how the Oscar winner brought even more depth to her performance. “Jennifer had access to specifics in terms of the way Aretha spoke, in terms of the way Aretha carried herself,” Tracey said. “So Jennifer was really helpful in terms of finetuning and making the dialogue more specific to everything that she knows, just in terms of her language and her rhythm of speech so that was just really, really helpful.”
In Respect, Jennifer actually sings Aretha’s songs live. Tracey revealed what it was like to witness Jennifer’s powerful vocals. “It was so special and mind-blowing in a different way,” she said. “When she was singing during the Columbia years she was singing the jazz stuff, that was remarkable. And then when she was singing in the church, that was remarkable in its own way. When she goes and finds her artistic voice, that was remarkable a different way… It was really amazing to see Jennifer transform herself and just to see her use that voice in so many different ways.”
The movie ends on a powerful note, with Aretha performing “Amazing Grace” for her live gospel album. The film brought Aretha full circle as she rediscovered her faith. While working on his film, Tracey found herself going on a “spiritual journey” of her own.
“My father was a minister as well like Aretha’s father. Working on this movie under sort of stressful circumstances really inspired me to reconnect with my own faith,” she told HollywoodLife. “In order to just get through the process, I was falling back on my knees and calling out to my ancestors in a way than I hadn’t previously. I found myself going on a spiritual journey because of this movie and because of understanding what Aretha went through, it just really triggered issues around my own faith as well.”