“It’s a long road, but I’m gonna find the end,” sings Queen Latifah as Smith, one of the most celebrated blues singers of her day. Smith, who was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, rose to stardom in the 1920s and was the highest-paid black entertainer of her time.
The trailer shows us some of the long road that Smith travels. While it is at times glamorous, as when the singer is giving dazzling performances for captive audiences wearing fancy period frocks, there’s no shortage of bumps along the way, with suggestions of alcoholism, depression, and a volatile domestic situation. This preview footage makes no reference to the fact that Smith was bisexual, though it seems likely that this topic will be addressed in the course of the TV movie.
Indiewire reports that “Bessie” has been “22 years in the making,” and Latifah was first approached about the role way back when she was beginning her acting career. Mo’Nique, Khandi Alexander (“Scandal,” “Treme,”), and Tika Sumpter (“Ride Along,” “A Madea Chirstmas”) co-star.
“Bessie” will debut May 16 on HBO.