First Look | Bessie


On the heels of strong lead performances from female actresses in television films, HBO has released images from their upcoming film, Bessie, which features a strong performance from ten-time Black Reel Award nominee, Queen Latifah.

Bessie focuses on Smith’s transformation from a struggling young singer into “The Empress of the Blues,” one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s. Latifah stars as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in the drama, directed by Dee Rees. She also co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois based on a story by Rees and Horton Foote.

The film will offer an intimate look at the determined woman whose immense talent and love for music took her from anonymity in the rough-and-tumble world of vaudeville to the 1920s blues scene and international fame, capturing her professional highs and personal lows, and ultimate legend.

The cast includes Michael Kenneth Williams as Bessie’s husband, Jack; Khandi Alexander as Bessie’s older sister, Viola; Mike Epps as Richard, a bootlegger and romantic interest; Tika Sumpter as Lucille, a performer and romantic interest; Tory Kittles as Bessie’s older brother, Clarence; 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; and Mo’Nique as blues legend Ma Rainey.

Bessie is executive produced by Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere, Lili Fini Zanuck, Richard D. Zanuck, Shelby Stone and Randi Michel. Ron Schmidt produces.

HBO has announced that Bessie will debut this spring, Saturday, May 16 at 8PM.

Check out some images from the film below: