‘Respect’ Hairstylist Talks About the Aretha Franklin Looks He Avoided

  • Insider spoke with the “Respect” lead hairstylist Lawrence Davis. 
  • Davis discussed one Aretha Franklin hairstyle from a 1968 performance that he decided to avoid. 
  • “What had happened was her hair started to fall. It was pinned up and it started to fall,” he said.

Few artists shaped popular styles like Aretha Franklin. From her iconic, swooping bangs to her daring feather-sleeved dresses — Aretha Franklin did it all.

And one of the biggest tasks Lawrence Davis faced while working as the hair department lead on the recent Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” was not only how to recreate some of Franklin’s iconic looks, but deciding which ones to leave out of the film to accurately depict her legacy. 

Davis told Insider during a recent interview that early on in his extensive research process, he discovered images of “one particular” hairstyle that Franklin wore during a performance at Martin Luther King Jr’s memorial service in 1968, which he found interesting but he couldn’t quite figure out the complete style from looking at the black and white picture.

Davis continued to say that he found separate footage from the memorial service that offered a new angle of Franklin’s hair and allowed him to pin down what was going on with her look. 

“What had happened was her hair started to fall. It was pinned up and it started to fall,” he said. “It started to fall, so I said, ‘you know what, I’m not gonna do this particular style because I don’t know what it really wound up looking like,’ but I know that what I saw was, it was up at one moment and then it had fallen during her performance. So I decided not to go with that style.” 

Aretha Franklin performing at a Martin Luther King Jr. tribute concert on June 28, 1968 at Madison Square Garden and Jennifer Hudson in “Respect.”

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images/Quantrell D. Colbert © 2020 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Davis — who has worked extensively across TV and film and is nominated for an Emmy this year for his work on “Mare of Easttown” — told Insider that the research he conducted for “Respect” also unearthed a few unsuspected facts about Aretha Franklin’s live performance style. 

“One thing that did surprise me was that in those performances Aretha and her backup singers sometimes wore multiple wigs at one time, so finding out that information was very fascinating, but also created a challenge for me — which I was up to — building some of those larger wigs and having them comfortable on the actor’s heads,” Davis said. 

“So it actually was something that I learned how to do while doing the film, and it turned out great.”

“Respect” director Liesl Tommy was recently interviewed for Insider by Keyaira Boone, and she said there were also parts of Aretha Franklin’s personal life that she decided not to include in the biopic — specifically, sexual assault in Franklin’s youth. 

“I didn’t want to be a part of it, frankly,” Tommy said. “I did not want there to be a single scene in this film that felt traumatizing to the audience.”

“I’m interested in the audience actually using their imagination. I’m interested in not handing them everything. I want the audience to be a participant in the storytelling. I don’t want them to just sit back and let it wash over them.”

She added: “There is no need to further re-traumatize our audiences. We are saturated culturally with … images of violence on Black bodies, on Black women’s bodies.”

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