Aretha on Screen: What’s the Fate of Jennifer Hudson Biopic and Embattled ‘Amazing Grace’ Doc?

The Queen of Soul was never the queen of the big screen. At least when it came to playing someone other than herself, Aretha Franklin’s acting appearances were limited to her performance in “The Blues Brothers” and its sequel and an episode of “Room 222.” But in death, if not life, she may yet become a movie star, of sorts, if the producers of two long-gestating projects get their way. But it remains to be seen whether her death Thursday might accelerate or further bog down the path either project faces on the way to theaters.

One is a long-planned, authorized biopic now in the hands of MGM, which would star Jennifer Hudson as a young Aretha, and which Franklin was discussing on the phone with her collaborators up through last week. The other is a legendarily long-shelved documentary/concert film, “Amazing Grace,” that was filmed and abandoned in 1972, rescued and completed in 2010, and then lost to legal limbo as Franklin left its release tied up in court for the last eight years.

Variety spoke with the producers of both projects about where they stand, although “Amazing Grace” producer Alan Elliott was circumspect about where the star’s death leaves his years of in-and-out-of-court settlements and negotiations to release the film, saying only: “Ms. Franklin said, ‘I love the film.’ Unfortunately for all of us, she passed before we could share that love. ‘Amazing Grace’ is a testament to the timelessness of her devotion to music and God. Her artistry, her genius and her spirit are present in every note and every frame of the film. We look forward to sharing the film with the world soon.”

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