Bessie will tell the story of the singer’s transformation from a struggling young singer into “The Empress of the Blues” responsible for the chart-topping hit, “Downhearted Blues.” The film will also touch on Smith’s personal trials, which reportedly included an affair with fellow blues singer, Ma Rainey, and bouts with drinking leading to the singer’s decline during the Great Depression.
Latifah, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing Mama Morton in 2002’s Chicago, will be joined by a star-studded cast, including Mo’Nique in her first major role since winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Precious. The actress will portray Rainey, who was a music icon in her own right.
The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams is Smith’s husband, Jack Gee. Mike Epps (Friday films) and Tika Sumpter (Get On Up) will play two of Smith’s love interests, Richard and Lucille. And Oliver Platt and Bryan Greenberg (How to Make It in America) round out the cast as famed photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten and music critic John Hammond, respectively.
While Latifah is certainly the star of the film, all eyes will be on Mo’Nique, who recently opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about how she was blackballed after her Oscar win, preventing her from being able to work in Hollywood.