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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