Considered one of the greatest singers of her time, Bessie Smith (Queen Latifah), remains an influential figure in the world of blues music. The film is centered on an earlier period, prior to her success, during which she was a struggling artist with a powerful vision. In 1912, Bessie was a fearless woman from Chattanooga, Tennessee who stood up for herself no matter what. After teaching a lesson to her rude hookup, she goes straight on stage and delivers an unforgettable performance. Although producers are looking for light-skinned colored women, Bessie holds her ground and is determined to shine despite society’s rigidly enforced rules and prejudice.
The young singer did not have a happy childhood. After her parents, Laura and William, died, she was left in the harsh care of her older sister, Viola (Khandi Alexander). She ends up attending local vaudeville shows with her brother, Clarence (Tory Kittles) and other gigs, but no producer wants to feature her due to her darker skin color. Bessie finally gets her big break when she meets Ma Rainey (Mo’Nique). The latter is impressed by the young singer’s spunk and honesty and takes her under her wing, making her a part of her famous group. Working alongside Ma, Bessie learns more and more about show business. In time, she captures a dedicated and mesmerized audience around her, becoming a well-established American blues singer.
— Slant Magazine
“As a black female artist, she naturally confronts racism as going around the country, and that is where some of Latifah’s best moments in the film come from.”
— Seongyong’s Private Place
Did You Know?
Bessie was a long-time endeavor of Dee Rees’. The project took a total of twenty years to be finalised, and the director purposefully chose to represent songs that Smith wrote herself or tracks of hers that never made it as top hits. The scene where Bessie performs naked in front of a mirror is described by Rees as an empowering confrontation of self. As the director puts it, “the wig is off, the costume is off, the makeup is off, this is just you”. Review our Gay Themed Films Here