*HBO has finally set a date for its Bessie Smith biopic starring Queen Latifah.
The film, which follows America’s “Empress of the Blues” from her beginning in abject poverty to becoming one of the biggest recording artists of the 1920s, will premiere on May 16, the network announced Tuesday. Smith died after a car accident in 1937 at the age of 43.
Director Dee Rees said she tried to peel back the layers of this music legend through the eyes of the men and women who loved her.
“Her personal relationships are really where we learn what her fears are, what her wants are, what her needs are,” Rees told the TCA in January. “I thought it was important to show the relationship with Jack Gee, her longtime lover, and also show a relationship with a longtime female lover, and then there’s Richard, who is a bootlegger, who comes in later in the film. And with each relationship, we see how Bessie is fed in different ways.”
Rees continued: “I thought it was just important to really show the fact that this woman refused to be labeled, refused to be defined by convention, and through her work, lived what she sang, and really made it.”
Michael K. Williams plays Bessie’s lover Jack G., while Tika Sumpter stars as her other lover Lucille and Mike Epps as Richard Morgan, the bootlegger…and another of Bessie’s lovers.
Also in the cast: Mo’Nique as blues legend Ma Rainey, Charles S. Dutton as her husband William “Pa” Rainey, Tory Kittles as her older brother Clarence and Khandi Alexander as Bessie’s older sister Viola.
Below, Latifah gives props to all of her co-stars, with her deepest praise saved for Mo’Nique:
Below, the only footage from “Bessie” released thus far exists in this HBO teaser from December. (Fast forward to the 2:14 mark and don’t blink, or you’ll miss it.)