With a story by Rees and Horton Foote, the film 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, offering 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.
Described by HBO as a labor of love for the filmmakers, “Bessie” has been 22 years in the making. The first draft was written by playwright Horton Foote. Queen Latifah was approached by producers Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck to take on the role of Bessie when she was just launching her acting career. She eventually came on board as an executive producer, along with producing partner Shakim Compere.
Director Dee Rees caught HBO’s attention with the buzz around her award-winning film, “Pariah.”
The premium cabler has announced will debut this spring, Saturday, May 16 at 8PM.
A teaser trailer for the telepic was released by HBO last night (which is embedded below if you missed it); but first, watch 7 character spots for each of the film’s starring characters, as played by Latifah, Mo’Nique, Alexander, Sumpter, Epps and Kittles:
And here’s the teaser trailer: