Few people know the story of American jazz and blues singer Bessie Smith; but they should. Bessie Smith was easily the most popular female blues singer during the 1920s and the 1930s and she also happened to be bisexual.
You don’t get queer women of colour on television very often so it’s a very big deal that US cable TV network HBO will be bringing Bessie’s story to life later this year in a biopic called ‘Bessie’.
The biopic will cover the most important parts of Bessie’s life as she became and maintained her crown as the “Empress of the Blues” (as some called her during her era). This includes the relationship with her husband Jack Gee who is portrayed in the biopic by Michael Kenneth Williams, who some will recognise from HBO’s other shows, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. As shown in the trailer, Gee and Smith don’t have the happiest of relationships and their marriage was troubled at best. It may be hard to sit through those scenes then but at least the biopic will be realistic.
Furthermore, viewers will also see her relationship with Ma Rainey (played by Mo’Nique), the woman who reportedly got into Bessie into blues singing and helped her discover her bisexuality. We don’t know how far the biopic will delve into Bessie’s bisexuality, especially as the trailer for the movie is just 30 seconds long but so far it’s making all the right noises.
For example, the filmmaker behind Bessie is Dee Rees who is the writer-director responsible for the other brilliant queer movie, Pariah, which dealt with identity, heartbreak and sexual expression. Plus, Bessie is being played by Queen Latifah who has played a queer woman before (she played a lesbian in Chicago and received an Oscar nom for it) and she’s earned Grammy nominations for her jazz singing too, so we know she has the singing chops to pull this one off.
Bessie will air on HBO on May 16th, 2015.