Photos: Frank Masi/HBO
HBO has confirmed the debut date for Bessie: May 16 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on HBO.
Queen Latifah will portray the legendary lesbian blues singer in a biopic, titled Bessie, written and directed by Out100 honoree Dee Rees. Since Bessie will tell the story of the legendary Smith's "turbulent personal life and her transformation into one of the most iconic singers of the 20th century," and Rees is open about her sexuality and also wrote and directed Pariah, about a young African-American woman's coming out to her family, you can safely assume that the film will also address the queer scene of the era, and Bessie Smith's bisexuality.
In 1930s Harlem, Bessie Smith was a married woman who kept a female lover. In The Boy in the Boat, the singer belted out: "When you see two women walking hand in hand, just look 'em over and try to understand: They'll go to those parties — have the lights down low — only those parties where women can go." And the bisexual singer was known to have keep lots of lovers while touring, once harshly telling Lillian Simpson, her lover at the time: “I got 12 women on this show, and I can have one every night if I want it.”
Mo’Nique will tackle the role of blues legend Ma Rainey (although here in this first photo she's just wielding a feather duster, we can expect plenty of sparks to fly we hope). This is not the only role she'll be in since winning Best Supporting Actress for Precious. She's also starring in Patrik-Ian Polk's Blackbird, also in theaters this spring.
The film also stars Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) as Bessie’s husband, Jack Gee; Khandi Alexander as Bessie’s older sister, Viola; Tory Kittles as Bessie’s older brother, Clarence; Mike Epps as Richard, a bootlegger and romantic interest; Tika Sumpter as Lucille, a performer and romantic interest; Oliver Platt as famed photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten; Bryan Greenberg as renowned record producer and music critic John Hammond; with Charles S. Dutton as Ma Rainey’s husband, William “Pa” Rainey.