Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin, is one of three recent films focused on portraying an accurate depiction of the late Queen of Soul's life. Directed by Liesel Tommy, the movie follows Franklin's career from the early days of her singing in her father's church choir in Detroit to her rise to stardom and all the hurdles and trauma in between. To meticulously capture Franklin's life, the entire cast and crew had to work tirelessly studying all footage of Franklin, especially the makeup team.
Franklin was quite the minimalist in makeup for the uninitiated but became known for a few statement techniques later on. "Aretha wasn't known for heavy makeup," says the makeup department head, Stevie Martin. "But when she wore it, she had signature looks: Dark brows, winged eyeliner, gold lipstick, and smokey inner liner on the bottom. She was known for those things."
Because Respect is a period piece, Martin watched the 2018 documentary Amazing Grace, read multiple books on Franklin's life, and eagerly scouted old photographs of the singer to accurately showcase the different years of her life. In the film's first portion, we see young Aretha played by Skye Dakota Turner, surrounded by great Black artists in her father's home.
Although Franklin herself selected Jennifer Hudson to play her before she passed in 2018, the crew's goal was to avoid mimicking Franklin exactly. Instead, the team wanted to find a balance between both women. "Since Hudson does not look like Aretha (nor were we trying to accomplish that), I had to find the right balance to get her to embody Aretha," Martin says. "Jennifer is not Aretha, and we didn't want it to be a distraction."
While researching, she found out an unexpected fact about Aretha Franklin's live performances. "As you see in the film, she had a drinking problem — often showing up to perform after having too many drinks," the makeup artist shares. "She did sweat all a lot, and, in addition to the hot camera lights, I had to come up with a makeup formulation of sweat that wouldn't compromise the integrity of her makeup." To achieve faux sweat beads, Martin and the team mixed Tatcha's Dewy Skin Mist with Mac's Lipglass to create the consistency of sweat without it moving.
The Emmy-nominated makeup artist used MAC gold lipstick to recreate Franklin's classic frosted-gold pout. "It was interesting because back then, we weren't privy to the colors we have now, so I had to use a few different colors to achieve the look of that period," says Martin. Franklin also displayed a drawn-in mole that Martin encompassed throughout the film as well.
When asked about her favorite makeup moments from the movie, Martin shared Amazing Grace was at the top: "When I watched it on the documentary, I realized I had to get that right, and when I saw it on set, you could feel it. It was a moment."
Franklin, an icon known for her legendary voice and work with the civil rights and feminist movement, is a great success story and a pivotal part of American history. The movie does a great job displaying the simplistic yet, classic signature look of the Queen of Soul.
Respect in theaters and on-demand now.