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Jennifer Hudson talks 'Aretha' biopic, MasterCard partnership to boost Black women

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Jennifer Hudson is very busy these days, but she makes time for a side gig as an advocate for Black female business owners.   

Earlier this year, the Oscar-winning actress and Grammy award-winning singer partnered with Mastercard (MA) to help elevate the visibility of Black female business owners in the wake of COVID-19. 

The platform, known as Mastercard's Strivers Initiative, includes a grant program in partnership with the Fearless Fund, a VC fund built by women of color for women of color, in addition to a multi-city educational roadshow across the U.S.

On Tuesday, Mastercard announced a series of celebratory events to reinforce the impact of these entrepreneurs, which include a red carpet celebration and special concert by Hudson at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater, in addition to the premiere of the long-awaited Aretha Franklin feature film "Respect."

The initiative builds on the company’s previously announced $500 million commitment to support Black communities over the next five years.

"It's all about supporting and encouraging Black women business owners, which I think is amazing," the former "American Idol" contestant told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview.

"It inspires me. I'm so happy to see the support being put behind Black businesswoman owners," she continued, adding that minority businesses often battle a lack of support and awareness. 

'I like real things'

A child places a flower on a fence near a
A child places a flower on a fence near a "Black Lives Matter" placard during a rally the day before jury selection is scheduled to begin for the trial of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. March 7, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

In the aftermath of George Floyd's murder and the Black Lives Matter movement at large, big name corporations from Adidas (ADDDY) to Apple (AAPL) have pledged social justice initiatives to address racial equity. 

However, those same companies have also faced criticism with some suggesting that certain initiatives don't go far enough to create any real change — citing corporate 'performative allyship.' 

But when asked why the Mastercard initiative was different than other social justice campaigns, Hudson told Yahoo Finance: "I like real things — things that move the needle, things that have substance."

She explained how she looks for partnerships that carry a lasting impact "so that it's not only specific to one period of time or one group of people."

There's "so much creativity out there and passion in these people and their businesses," she added. 

To celebrate these businesses, which range from law firms to fashion and beauty brands, Hudson will perform at New York City's famed Apollo Theater — the first live music performance at the historic venue since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. 

The singer is also set to perform alongside Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and others to celebrate New York City's grand reopening later this month.   

"We're discovering it as we go and planting our feet again," Hudson said about the return of live music.

"It's almost like a new start, in a way, and a new discovery of what's going on in the world and how we're going to approach it and move forward...I'm still figuring it out for myself," she revealed — adding that Hollywood has been "extra busy" when it comes to "playing catch-up." 

"We're picking up where we left off, dealing with what was already planned, and then what's to come...we're all hitting the ground running," she explained. 

'Newfound respect' for Aretha

(Courtesy: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
(Courtesy: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Jennifer Hudson plays Aretha Franklin in the upcoming biopic "Respect" — a role that the Queen of Soul personally asked Hudson to take on. 

"I walked away with wanting to own my voice that much more," the singer said about the filming experience.

"And it wasn't until Aretha owned hers that we got our Queen of Soul. So it's like, well, what queens lies within us if we own our own voices?" she continued. 

The film, which also stars Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Mary J. Blige and Forest Whitaker, has already received Oscar buzz. 

Hudson told Yahoo Finance that she wants viewers to walk away with "a newfound respect" for Aretha Franklin, later adding that "it was her encouragement" that got the 39-year-old actress through the initial fears of taking on the project. 

As for the biggest challenge, Hudson said it was playing "a woman in that time frame versus the era in which I come from. Women didn't exist the same way back then...so it took a bit of research to channel that [because] we have more space today," she added. 

"As you see, we're celebrating and acknowledging so many women through Mastercard and things like that— they didn't necessarily have that back then — as much support or space to take up," she explained. 

"Respect" is set to hit theaters on August 13.  

Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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