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Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Hudson will both play Aretha Franklin in two separate biopics planned for release this year. 

Two diva singers and actresses are set to play the Queen of Soul this year.  America can’t lose.

If you’ve been missing the Queen of Soul since her death in August 2018, she’s back.  Well, not actually, but she’s being played on screen by two talented actresses and singers in two separate releases this year. 

You may have heard about the upcoming release of “Respect” starring Jennifer Hudson as Aretha.  It’s due on the big screen in August.  Not getting as much attention, but it should be, is the “Genius: Aretha” an eight-part limited series, starring Cynthia Erivo as Aretha.  “Genius: Aretha” will air on the small screen beginning in May. 

True, Hudson was hand-picked by Aretha to play her in an autobiography, but “Genius” is the first authorized scripted series about Franklin.  Both trace Franklin’s life from Gospel prodigy though civil rights champion and on to her uncontested status as one of the greatest singers of the 20th Century.

Hudson’s star might shine a little brighter, but you still should put on your sunglasses to bask in Erivo’s wonder.    

To refresh your memory, Hudson, 38, came in seventh on the third season of American Idol, she won an Oscar for her earth-shattering role in Dreamgirls, and she brought the crowd at Franklin's funeral to their feet with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” that would have made the soul queen proud. Here’s hoping knowing that the 38-year-old singer/actress will do the same with Respect.

Erivo became a household name last year with her starring role as Harriet Tubman, in the movie “Harriet.”  She was nominated for an Emmy as Best Actress, and while she didn’t win, like J-Hud, Erivo has her one cabinet full of awards.  For her performance as Celie in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple,” Erivo won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical, the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Musical Performance in a Daytime Program, the latter two she shared with the rest of the cast.

Erivo, 33, began her career in the stage in her native England.  However, since moving across the pond, she’s expanded beyond the stage, starring in several movies and on several musical recordings. In fact, she sang the theme song from “Harriet,” “Stand Up” at the Oscars, she shocked the audience many in American who didn’t know the girl has chops. 

In addition to Erivo and Hudson, both movies have a star-studded list of actors in supporting roles.  In “Genius,” Erivo is joined by Emmy-winner Courtney B. Vance, who plays her father Rev. C.L. Franklin.  Malcolm Barrett plays Ted White, Aretha’s first husband and business manager, who develops relationships with songwriters and producers and picks some of her biggest hits. But as Aretha gains fame, White’s heavy drinking and volatile behavior ends their marriage.

Patrice Covington and Rebecca Naomi Jones portray Erma and Carolyn Franklin, respectively, Aretha’s sisters, who are both talented performers in their own right and sing backup for Aretha. Kimberly Hébert Gregory plays Ruth Bowen, a pioneer in her field, the head of a successful Black-owned agency, who represents Aretha, booking her into world-class venues and getting her onto the covers of “Time” and “Ebony”magazines.

Hudson is joined in “Respect” by stars Forest Whitaker, who plays Rev. C.L. Franklin, Marlan Wayans who plays Ted White, Audra McMcDonald who plays Aretha’s mother Barbara Franklin and Mary J. Blige who plays singer Dinah Washington. 

Both releases have award show aspirations.  National Geographic will premiere “Genius: Aretha” just before the Emmy qualifying deadline.  The series is set for a Memorial Day 2020 release date, debuting four episodes on consecutive nights starting Monday, May 25. 

Those four episodes are key. Emmy rules require at least half of the season’s episodes to air on or before May 31, and “Genius: Aretha” runs eight episodes.

The “Genius” franchise has proven to be an awards magnet. The first season, focused on Albert Einstein and starring Geoffrey Rush, earned 10 Emmy nominations, while the follow-up starring Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso won two Emmys, in addition to its five other nominations. Both Rush and Banderas were nominated for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, as well.

"Respect," with an expected release on Oct. 0, 2020, is obviously being eyed for award consideration. Fall is a prime time to launch Oscar contenders, ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline. 

FYI, Hudson and Erivo’s paths have crossed on the stage.  Hudson did a guest stint as Shug Avery in the Broadway production of “The Color Purple,” while Erivo was starring as Celee. 

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