MGM Studios has chosen Tony nominee Liesl Tommy to direct its upcoming Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect.
The film is set to cover the life of the late icon, from singing as a child in her father’s church’s choir to becoming a superstar and civil rights activist. Before she passed, Franklin handpicked Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson to portray her in the film.
The South African-born Tommy has plenty of directorial experience. She was the first Black woman to earn a Tony Award nomination for best direction of a play, according to a press release from the studio. She is known for both her provocative world premieres and reimagining classics with racially diverse casts. She is also on board to direct Born a Crime, the film adaptation of the autobiography by the same name by Trevor Noah, which will star Lupita Nyong’o. Tommy has also directed episodes of AMC’s Walking Dead, HBO’s Insecure and OWN’s Queen Sugar.
Hudson appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last September to speak about her portrayal of Franklin.
“It’s always been my dream to play Aretha, and it’s actually happening,” Hudson said. “It blows my mind. I’ve always looked up to Aretha, and to portray her – I can’t even speak about it, because it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s a huge task.’”