Latifah stars in Bessie as the Empress of the Blues, one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s. Latifah recorded many of Smith’s better-known songs for the film, and a soundtrack release is expected.
At the winter Television Critics Association press conferences, Latifah said she was glad the project took 22 years to get made. “When the project came my way, I don’t think I had the life journey that went along with it. I got to live more of the blues,” she said.
Directed by Dee Rees, the film focuses on Smith escaping her turbulent personal life to become one of the first major blues stars. She died after a car accident in 1937 at the age of 43.
Mo'Nique stars as blues legend Ma Rainey and Bryan Greenberg portrays John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive who signed Smith. The film also stars Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Tory Kittles, Mike Epps, Oliver Platt and Charles S. Dutton. Evyen Klean is the music supervisor.
The multi-hyphenate celeb will be making her return to the small screen in 2015 for HBO’s new film BESSIE. In the film—which is executive produced by Latifah, Shakim Compere, Lili Fini Zanuck, Richard D. Zanuck, Shelby Stone, and Randi Michel—Queen will star as the iconic blues singer, Bessie Smith, during her transition from humble beginnings to “The Empress of the Blues.”
BESSIE is directed by filmmaker Dee Rees from a screenplay by Rees, Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois. The film is also rounded out by a star-studded cast including Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Tory Kittles, Oliver Platt, Bryan Greenberg, with Charles S. Dutton and Mo’Nique.
Teaser for HBO Films’Bessie(slated to premiere Saturday, May 16), starring Oscar nominee Queen Latifah as blues singer Bessie Smith, Oscar winner Mo’Nique as blues singer Ma Rainey, Michael K. Williams as Smith’s husband Jack Gee, Khandi Alexander as Smith’s sister Viola and Tika Sumpter as Smith’s lover Lucille.
A Queen shall lord over Emerald City, in NBC’s The Wiz Live!
Queen Latifah, a Grammy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award winner (and two-time Emmy nominee), will portray the titular Wiz in the network’s next live production, which will air Thursday, Dec. 3. Meanwhile, Grammy winner Mary J. Blige has been cast as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, who holds sway over the Winkies and the Winged Monkeys that do her bidding. Evillene captures Dorothy (not yet cast) and her friends to avenge the murder of her sister, Evvamean, and to get back the powerful silver slippers given to Dorothy by the Good Witch of the North.