The film tells the story of Bessie Smith, who was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s and 30s. It has the typical biopic format that rises-falls-and-rises-again, and follows Bessie as she rises from a poor upbringing in Tennessee to become a giant star living unapologetically as a working-class black woman. Despite all the disapproval of the establishment – even within the industry – people love her music. Unfortunately, her personal life falls apart and her career takes a downturn during the Great Depression. To find out more you need to see it.
In addition to Latifah, the cast includes “The Wire” star Michael K. Williams as her husband Jack Gee, “Scandal” star Khandi Alexander as her older sister Viola, Mike Epps as her lover Richard Morgan and Oscar winner Mo’Nique as Bessies mentor-turned-rival Ma Rainey. Williams and Mo’Nique were also nominated for Emmys for their performances. In addition, Latifahs “The Equalizer” co-star, Tory Kittles, Bessie’s brother Clarence.
The film was written and directed by Dee Rees, who went on to direct the Oscar-nominated film “Mudbound.” Rees was nominated to write and direct Emmys for “Bessie”.
“Bessie” has a 90% “fresh” critical score Rotten tomatoes. VarietyBrian Lowry described the film as “somewhat episodic in mapping Smith’s rise and fall, but it is sprinkled with wonderful supporting performances to reinforce a central tour” of Latifah’s performance.
If you like musical biographies, “Bessie” on HBO Max is sure to please.