You may not know Bessie Smith, but there aren’t many American singers working today who don’t owe her something.
Smith was one of the founding mothers of the blues — a huge star in the ’20s and a woman with a great story to be told. And it will be told this spring on HBO in Bessie, a new musical biography starring Queen Latifah.
Smith was a hard-living star who pushed aside the restraints of convention — and that includes having sex with both men and women. Dee Rees, who directed the movie and wrote it with Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois, says the film does not shy away from her sexuality: It’s who she was, and it expresses her refusal to conform.
You’ll even see that refusal and force of will, Rees says, in the film’s visuals. “Bessie never walks around things. She just walks right through it.”