The turbulent stories of two iconic black musicians rise to the top of this month’s VOD picks, albeit in different forms. “Bessie,” the HBO biopic starring Queen Latifah, earned rave reviews for its depiction of boundary-breaker Bessie Smith when it debuted on the network in May. Another soulful, honest look into the life of an incredibly talented black artist will be released this month with Netflix’s “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” a documentary that delves into Nina Simone’s singular stage presence and life story, with her contributions to the civil rights movement highlighted alongside her struggles with bipolar disorder and an abusive marriage.
On the webseries front, our lens is turned to “Cam Girls,” produced by and starring Kate Bond. Described as a “fun, soapy webseries about women who make money stripping on the internet,” the series takes viewers inside the lives of women who earn their livelihood with this decidedly 21st-century take on sex work. Also new this month is “The Impossibilities,” filmmaker Anna Kerrigan’s charming series about a lesbian yogi and a children’s party magician as they get lost and find their way back.
Critics have praised HBO’s “Bessie,” and with good reason. Queen Latifah plays the legendary early-twentieth-century jazz singer Bessie Smith in the biopic, brought to life with the direction and writing of Dee Rees. Smith was not only a singer who transcended genre; she also demanded (and received) equal pay and respect during a time in which she had two immense strikes against her: her race and gender. Latifah was originally approached to play the part nearly twenty years ago, but has stated that she’s glad the project came about now, telling NPR that Rees “had a vision that was something I could apply myself to and sink myself into at this time with this life experience.”
“Bessie” is available for streaming on HBO Go. Read Women and Hollywood’s review of the film.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (doc) – Directed by Liz Garbus
The life and times of Nina Simone are brought to life with this documentary, which uses a mixture of archival and unreleased footage. Featuring in-depth interviews with people close to Simone, including her daughter, this documentary peeks behind the curtain to depict what happened with Simone when the stage lights went off. The documentary awed crowds at Sundance and will be premiering on Netflix June 26th.
“Cam Girls” may seem like one of the racier series the Internet has to offer (and it very well may be), but this show offers more than meets the eye. it follows Liv (Kate Bond), an out-of-work teacher who, in a last-ditch attempt to pay the bills, decides to become a cam girl (that is to say, she strips on the internet for money). She and her tight-knit group of girl friends go on to navigate their way through the ins and outs of modern-day sex work. The series, created by Joelle Garfinkel, only just premiered at the beginning of June, so there’s still plenty of time to jump on the “Cam Girl” bandwagon.
It’s rare to find a webseries like “The Impossibilities,” so sure of its tone from the very first episode. The show centers around Willa (Kati Rediger), a “daffy lesbian yogi,” and Harry (Ashley Springer), a charming yet awkward aspiring children’s birthday-party magician. Written and directed by filmmaker Anna Kerrigan, the series is heartwarming, nerve-wracking and a genuinely fun watch. And what’s more? The series addresses sexuality in a newfound light, as it showcases Willa grappling with her newfound hetero feelings for Harry.