Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith, Tika Sumpter as Lucille. Photo: Frank Masi/HBO
HBO’s Bessie biopic, about the bisexual 1920s crooner Bessie Smith, was a passion project for lead star Queen Latifah, and writer-director Dee Rees told Out that "bringing these overlooked and underappreciated women to life and all of their identities," adding:
"They were black, they loved who they wanted to love, and their lyrics were political. So that was my passion in telling Bessie’s story. I can’t predict how it will be received, but as a director I think Latifah gives very brave performances. I asked her for a couple vulnerable things, and she gave them to me. For example, some of the takes are live takes of her singing live. No studio magic. Then there's the scene when she’s naked in the mirror. That’s a very intimate scene. She gives a brave performance and a very honest performance."
As Tika Sumpter, who plays Lucille, one of Bessie's female lovers, explained in an Xfinity interview, she based on the character on one of the woman who tried to commit suicide because she was scared to kiss Bessie in public, but that didn't define the woman she was playing for this film:
"People are more than who they sleep with. There’s more to life than just who you’re with. I know in the industry it probably doesn’t seem that way with all the magazines about who’s sleeping with who and who’s doing what. It’s like we’re made up of so much more and Bessie Smith had a lot to give."
Bessie premieres Saturday, MAY 16 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. Watch the clip below: