Jennifer Hudson Wore at Least 12 Wigs for Her Role as Aretha Franklin in Respect

Though staying true to Franklin’s signature beehive was of utmost importance, Martin says that they weren’t as concerned about recreating the singer’s exact makeup. “We weren’t going to mimic Aretha Franklin’s look because we didn’t want to be distracting,” he explains. “Aretha had strong brows. I didn’t want to make the brows as strong on Jennifer because that would have been a point of emphasis.” Martin expresses. The intent, instead, was to focus more on the natural makeup and effortless radiance that was favored — whether by choice or because of other conditions — by Black women at the time. “When I met with Liesl, she was tired of African-American women portrayed in films and TV shows with so much makeup on,” Martin says. So, they kept the makeup minimal, but not without a little finesse or nods to some of the singer’s most memorable beats: her signature cat-eye, her gold lip, and even the mole she sometimes strategically placed on her face.

One thing that was unique about this production, Martin shares, is that there were several Black staffers working on it, a rather uncommon occurrence in the movie industry. “You normally don’t see a trailer full of African-Americans on a project. It was a lovely thing to see that it was people like myself telling Aretha Franklin’s story,” he says. But even with so many Black people on set, Davis notes that his greatest challenge was finding enough hairstylists that could work with natural, Afro-textured hair, especially when it came to styling extras for the church scenes, concerts, and anything that required larger crowds. 

That, coupled with the restrictions in place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, made it difficult for them to keep up with the constant stream of hairstylists (up to 25, as Davis says) they needed on set. “We were pulling from anywhere. At that time in Georgia, everything was just like now — really, really busy. It became a challenge of finding people to fill those days,” Davis shares. You wouldn’t expect a place like Georgia, with its massive Black population to have a dearth of hairstylists with experience styling textured hair. But, considering the fact that many cosmetology schools still don’t require training in that area, being able to work with kinks and tight curls becomes a specialty as opposed to the norm. The future is looking more promising, though. Louisiana recently passed a law that requires all hair licensing exams to have a section on textured hair. That means if you’re going to be a certified stylist in Louisiana, you need to know how to work with Afro hair. Let’s hope other states follow suit. 

Aretha Franklin’s legacy earned her the title Queen of Soul. Capturing that essence on film was a group effort, one buttressed by the incredibly talented members of the hair and makeup team. Davis and Martin’s collaborative efforts brought Franklin’s — and by proxy, Black women’s beauty to the forefront. 

More behind-the-scenes details on the beauty in your favorite films:

Now, watch Ava Max try 9 things she’s never done before: