Audra McDonald, Who Portrays Aretha Franklin’s Mother In Respect, Will Always Say ‘Yes’ To Herself!, By Tonya Renee Stidhum, Posted August 26th 2021

The record-breaking Tony Award-winning actress tells The Root how she navigates the industry as a Black woman.

As Black women in America (hell, the world), demanding respect is quite an exhausting, yet necessary journey. In the case of the late Aretha Franklin, her demand for respect was as beautifully loud as her billowing voice.

Directed by Liesl Tommy, Respect stars Jennifer Hudson, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Forest Whitaker and more.

Per the press release sent to The Root:

Following the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career from a child singing in her father’s church’s choir to her international superstardom, Respect is the remarkable true story of the music icon’s journey to find her voice.


McDonald portrays Barbara Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s mother and a pivotal force and role model in Aretha’s young life.

Staying true to the film’s theme, we asked McDonald how she found her voice, especially navigating an industry that is typically white-dominated. McDonald is a six-time Tony Award-winning actor—which is a whole record, more than any other Broadway actor. The classically trained soprano has quite the set of vocal cords, so her voice—in every sense of the word—is important.

“When I stopped trying to sound like everyone else and started sounding like myself is when I finally found my voice,” McDonald told The Root. “Much like Aretha finding her voice and not just being exploited for her voice…when she was able to use her own voice and her own creative power, that’s when she started to move mountains.”

The industry of theater film and television is one that is full of rejection and certainly not for the thin-skinned. As a highly decorated performer, it is readily apparent that she is at the top of her game, but it is McDonald’s ability to “say yes to [herself]” (even if they say no) and hold firm that she is an “undeniable” talent that truly makes her special. That? Deserves a lot of damn respect.

Respect is in theaters now.