Liesl Tommy, Director of “Respect”

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By WNYC Studios and The New Yorker, WNYC Studios, and The New Yorker. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul, the greatest voice of her generation, an eighteen-time Grammy Award winner whose career spanned five decades. She was also a famously private person, which makes the project of directing a film about her life challenging. The job of telling Aretha’s story went to a South African-born director named Liesl Tommy, known for her work in theatre and nominated for a Tony, in 2016. Tommy had also directed episodes of TV shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Jessica Jones,” but the movie about Franklin—called, almost inevitably, “Respect”—is her first feature film. Tommy’s long-standing passion for the singer, she says, made the job relatively easy, even though she first fell in love with Franklin’s voice as a child living on a different continent. “I don’t think I ever thought of her as American,” she told Vinson Cunningham. “I thought of her as a woman that I wanted to grow up to be.” As a small child, she recalls, “Even if I don’t understand the feelings specifically, I understand how the way she sang them made me feel. And that was, excited to be alive.”

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