An adaptation of Chris Albertson’s biography Bessie, the movie will focus on Smith’s difficult personal life and her career as the highest-paid black entertainer of the 1920s. Before her premature death at age 43 in a car accident, Smith was married just once. Her husband of six years reportedly had difficulty accepting his wife’s bisexuality. She had an illustrious but short career, earning the nickname “Empress of the Blues.”
Latifah was last seen on Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias remake. Rees’ 2011 film Pariah, the acclaimed black lesbian coming-of-age drama, garnered an Independent Spirit Award acting nod for Adepero Oduye, who went on to co-star as Eliza in 12 Years a Slave.
Listen to Bessie Smith’s “St. Louis Blues,” a collaboration with Louis Armstrong, and “Down Hearted Blues,” a song preserved by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”