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.
The premium cabler has announced will debut this spring, Saturday, May 16 at 8PM. .
“Bessie” is executive produced by Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere, Lili Fini Zanuck, Richard D. Zanuck, Shelby Stone and Randi Michel. Ron Schmidt produces.
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.
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.
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.”
Says Latifah, “I have been excited about this project since the very beginning. When HBO got involved, we were thrilled and we worked together to make something that would capture Bessie’s life honestly and respectfully.”
Below you’ll find a just-released video featurette on the film’s production and consume design, a crucial important undertaking here, given that this is a period piece. And underneath it you’ll find a poster released by HBO: