Beyoncé plays Etta James


Filming commenced this month, the first
images are out, and here’s the proof; Beyoncé really is playing

Etta James in the upcoming Cadillac Records. This film
is not a biopic of James (though that’s not a bad idea), but a chronicle
of the fortunes of Chicago record label Chess Records and its musicians.
The cast includes Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess and Jeffrey Wright
as Muddy Waters.

So here’s a look at Beyoncé

and the original.

And here’s the first image off the

Even though this is not a biopic, the
casting, you can imagine, is a topic for fairly ugly debate (even
NPR had a blogger roundtable

partially devoted to it). I do wonder about the wisdom of the
role as a career move, at least for the negative press it’s generating, including the inevitable references
to the supposed Beyoncé/Jennifer Hudson rivalry following Hudson’s
Oscar win for Dreamgirls. And much (annoying) speculation
about whether Beyoncé will be gaining weight or wearing prosthetics
to look more like James. Can I take this moment to say that the
young Etta James was no Twiggy, but she was certainly not fat?

She was, however, a complex
person who, shall we say, tried a lot of things in her life. Or,
as PageSix reports, she said of herself: “"Oh
my god, she [Beyoncé] is going to have a hill to climb, because Etta
James ain’t been no angel!" Beyoncé doesn’t quite fit that
mold, Etta explained:

    "I wasn’t as bourgie as she
    is, she’s bourgeois. She knows how to be a lady, she’s like a model.
    I wasn’t like that … I smoked in the bathroom in school, I was kinda
    arrogant, so those are some of the things I would want to tell her."

No word (that I could find) about how/if
the movie will treat James’ addiction to heroin. Or if the movie
will touch on her rumored affairs with women. But the possibility
of such scenes is what really has people questioning the casting.
Well, that and the idea that Beyonce might perform that little number
“At Last.” Here’s a nifty version with a slide show of vintage
pictures of James across a few decades:

I’m withholding judgment on the casting
for the moment. While I can think of singers who remind me more
of James, and I personally wish the role had gone to one of the many
talented African-American actresses (not singers) in Hollywood who never
have enough roles anyway, I didn’t think Beyoncé sucked in Dreamgirls.
(I may be in the minority on that.) And if it’s true that James
may have a little hand in coaching Beyoncé on the vocals, well.
The chance to work with Etta herself? You can’t blame her for
wanting the role.

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