Bessie (TV Movie 2015) Poster

(2015 TV Movie)

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Loved It!!
MovieHoliks26 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I'm going to repeat something I saw another user off IMDb say, "LOVED IT!!" I just saw this brand new biopic off HBO GO last night, and it's a winner!

"Bessie" is an HBO TV film about legendary American blues singer Bessie Smith (Queen Latifah), and focuses on her transformation as a struggling young singer into "The Empress of the Blues". Bessie Smith (Queen Latifah) became one of the most popular female recording artists of the 1920s and 1930s as a singer of blues and jazz. This biography follows her life from a young singer from Chattanooga, Tennessee to her success- as well as her trials and tribulations revolving around family, show business, and personal demons.

There is a great scene in the film- *possible SPOILER* which Bessie sums up the difference between Southern and Northern racism. She says that Southerners don't mind how close you are, as long as you don't get too big- and Northerners don't mind how big you get, as long as you don't get too close. What a sad, but true, commentary on the racial divide, which this singer- and her music- made big strides to over-come, that benefit African-American recording artists to this day I think.

And as for Latifah's performance- performer, artist, bi-sexual lover, African-American woman, abused child, addict, etc... let's just say this is the performance of her career no doubt- and watch out at Emmy and Golden Globe-time this coming awards season... Michael K. Williams ("Boardwalk Empire"), Khandi Alexander, Monique and Oliver Platt co- star. And wow!-I saw a writing credit attributed to- Horton Foote!- which I checked out at Wikipedia. Apparently he was involved at a time Columbia Pictures was going to produce this movie way back when in the '80s I think..??- before the Zanucks (2 of the films' executive producers) took this project over in the early '90s.
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Missed opportunity
lampic23 July 2015
Long-overdue and obviously made with good intentions, this TV biopic of legendary 1920s Blues queen suffers from usual script trouble: how to condense someone's life in a two-hour story without making it all like a cartoon. The project was already planned for decades, I remember media talking about possibility of this movie even in early 1970s, right after "Lady sings the Blues" and back than Roberta Flack (who was white-hot at the time) was considered for the main role. Not that Bessie was ever forgotten - "Columbia records" kept her complete works on the market, Janis Joplin paid for her gravestone, there were theater plays and books about her life, notably by Chris Albertson who became world's greatest authority on the subject (and was curiously ignored in making of this movie). It took four decades to finally have this biopic made and contrary to my great expectations, I am saddened that it all resulted with such a predictable stereotypical fantasy.

Ingredients are right: cast is spectacular and gives its best shot. Not just Queen Latifah in the main role and Mo'Nique (as Ma Rainey) but countless actors playing the circle of lovers, husbands, boyfriends and relatives are impressive, particularly Khandi Alexander (as vicious cousin) who steals the scene every time she comes up on the screen. Clothing, scenery, visually everything works just fine and for a while you might even enjoy the thrill of re- created world of 1920s specially as actors are so sizzling and determined, there is a very fascinating insight into a long-gone segregated, brutal world of woman who escaped crushing poverty and became breadwinner for everybody around her. BUT (and there is a big but) even though ingredients are right and yes, it actually happen just as shown in the movie (it can be checked in her biography, yes she did spit out and was rejected on her first recording audition, yes she faced the Ku Klux Clan, yes Ma Rainey sang ""Black Bottom Blues", yes she traveled in her own train caravan) after a while script rushes so much that everything becomes one big blur of short episodes piled on top of each other to the point that it really seems like cartoon version of Bessie's life, short nuggets and photo shots. Concerts. Click. Racists. Click. Dominating boyfriend-turned-husband-turned-manager. Click. Bootlegged booze. Click. Fights. Click. Pale white boys interested to make money out of her. Click. She's bisexual. Click.

No doubt movie is fascinating for young audience who are finally introduced to artist and those who have never heard of this feisty lady and her contemporaries might be impressed to find out that almost a century ago there were proud black women fighting like lionesses for their own place in the world. Not everybody was a maid, washerwoman or prostitute - Bessie, Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Bogan and Sippie Wallace (to name just a few) were heroines of their time and even though they represented "sin" it was still better option than to scrub the stairs in Baltimore. So on one side it works as reminder about important chapter in American history and kudos to good intentions, it might intrigue kids to search for original recordings.

Where the film fails is to dig just a little deeper under the surface and explain reasons for Bessie's behavior - we all understand she was this brilliant artist but what we see in the movie is woman who drinks, fights, cusses and basically intimidates everyone around. It is a testament to Queen Latifah's acting that she suggests vulnerability hidden deep inside under all that bravado and there were few short scenes (mostly when she is alone with herself, coming home after the concerts) that glimpse in direction where this movie did not dare to go and which would work much better had the creators or script writers decided to explore her inner world instead of giving us point-by-point well-known snapshots. Curiously, film decidedly ends on a upbeat note, going so far to even present Bessie's triumph in Carnegie Hall (which never happened) and completely ignoring circumstances around her death. I have been living with her music for decades now so naturally after initial excitement about the movie I feel saddened that this big chance is missed now and since it took 78 years from her death for her story to finally reach the movie screen, I doubt that in my life I will see another attempt.
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It's Tough Out There for a Biopic Maker
mukava99117 May 2015
A movie about some aspect of Bessie Smith's life is decades overdue, considering the broad cultural shadow she casts. A few episodes of her tumultuous life explored in depth would resonate, but like too many biopics, this one suffers from the creators' attempt to tell the whole story, or most it, and the results are mechanical, predictable and force-fitted into various agendas. Most biopic makers stumble upon these rocks. Their task is difficult.

From the start of "Bessie" we are told five things over and over: Bessie was haunted throughout her life by memories of the mother she lost as a child. Bessie had lesbian dalliances. Bessie loved to drink straight gin, preferably right out of the bootlegger's glass jar. Bessie had a violent temper. Bessie was a fiercely independent, take-charge kind of gal. But the main thing about Bessie that is presented only sporadically and by rote is her distinctive singing and how it came to be that way. Queen Latifah, who would seem to be a fine choice for this role, does suggest Smith in girth and even in facial features, but despite a strong voice which she tries to adapt to the Smith groove, she never makes us feel the rafters rising as the Smith legend tells us. The only time she approaches the true Smith sound is near the end when hard living had begun to ravage her vocal chords. And in the early scenes Latifah, given her age and physicality, cannot possibly persuade us that she is a young, unformed artist-to-be.

The attempt to demonstrate how she gradually upstaged her mentor, Ma Rainey (played to the hilt by Mo'Nique), is episodic and sketchy, not organic or dramatic; the same goes for the re-enactments of Smith's altercations with members of the high-toned Manhattan art scene in the 1920s and early 1930s. Some good substance is made of her volatile love affairs with men (Michael Kenneth Williams and Mike Epps). But her mid-career slump is presented as with no explanation or cause, other than perhaps the Great Depression. SPOILER ALERT: Her tragic death (a potential movie in itself) is entirely absent, as "Bessie" ends in mid-air, or mid- road, as we are left with her musings about where she will go next after a picnic with her former bootlegger.

So, a point has been scored for Bessie Smith. It opens a conversation. But more is needed.
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Bessie Disconnects ***
edwagreen16 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Queen Latifah totally captured the soul of blues singer Bessie Smith, in this film biography of the legendary singer.

The problem with the picture is the disconnection we see throughout. It is not clear regarding the circumstances of the death of Smith's mother, which she is blamed for. Even when Smith visits the cemetery years later, we don't see the monument of the mother.

Latifah is excellent in the role. Her singing is tremendous and she comes across as a tough, vulgar, often drunk young woman who knew from an early age what she wanted out of life.

Smith was brash, totally outspoken and not afraid of anything or anyone. We see this when she chased Klan members away while performing in North Carolina.

She receives fine support from Monique as Ma Rainey. We see the latter give Smith pointers, only for the two to split when Smith wants more recognition. Years later, when the depression hits, they're suddenly reunited and this apparently opened doors for Bessie.
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A Basket Full of Emmys
rossini-186818 May 2015
The camera has a love affair with Queen Latifah from beginning to end in this tour de force, a performance that may have been worthy of an Oscar, let alone the Emmy she is destined to receive. The movie was co-executive produced by the late Richard Zanuck, based on a story by the late Oscar winning screenwriter Horton Foote, and their posthumous talent is impressively displayed at every level.

The screenplay was smart enough not to try and convert the audience to liking the blues, which is always an acquired taste, instead focusing on the intense drama that was this woman's personal life, from childhood traumas (i.e. being chased by her older sister with a knife), to lesbian love affairs as a grown woman. Thanks mainly to Queen Latifah's amazing performance, a basketful of Emmys should be in the future for this bold and seriously worthy TV drama.
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Definitely NOT "about the music"
A_Different_Drummer20 May 2015
The year was 1972 and the challenge for director Sidney J. Furie was how to translate the biography of Billie Holliday into something that had "bite" for the mainstream.

He succeeded, in large part by his decision to make the story as much about the music as the personal travails of the famous singer.

At the time it seemed the obvious choice. Yet, flash forward 43 years and today the team behind this project, faced with the exact same choice, took the road less travelled.

It is not as if Queen L. does not have a set of pipes. After years of appearing in a string of "commodity" lifetime/lifestyle/X-mas movies -- in parts which leveraged off her infectious natural sweetness -- she stunned audiences worldwide with her performance of I KNOW WHERE I've BEEN in 2007.

(For the record, how perfect was she in that performance?? This reviewer has that song in every mix he owns and never gets tired of it. Her performance was so flawless that she could have won IDOL on that single track alone.)

This is a hard film to review. A lot of talent behind the camera, a lot of talent in front of the camera, and all of it hamstrung by the executive decision to downplay the music and focus on the strife.

Larger than life people have larger than life problems. But we already knew that. Personally, I missed the tunes.
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Awesome acting!
Discogodfather962221 August 2015
Queen Latifah (Chicago) stars as the title character Bessie Smith in HBO's Bessie, a biopic on the life of the American legendary blues singer. 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 1920's. Times were rough for ol Bessie growing up and even after her rise to fame. Her parents and brother died when she was young and was looked after by her older sister, this on top of the fact that she was black, bisexual and growing up in Tennessee in the mid 1900's… lets just say they could of gone a lot better for her. To help ends meet for her family Bessie and her brother sung and danced in a duet on the streets of Chattanooga. By 1912 Smith was a known singer in her part of town, delighting people with her voice and dancing, well… most people. Although she had a great voice a lot of people were judgmental about her appearance. One scene in the movie she is mortified during an audition when she is given the paper bag test. Basically they hold a regular brown paper lunch bag up to her face, if her skin tone is lighter than the bag, she passes. They only wanted light skin black preforming; Smith didn't pass and is laughed off stage. Little did the producer know that Smith had a volatile temper and proceeded to push him down to the floor.

Her temper was pretty notorious back in the day, not saying she would fly off the handle for no reason, no. As a matter of fact (from what the film showed me) all of her violent outbursts were for good reason. The opening shot of the film, Smith is in the alleyway of a performance making out with a man, he wants to take it to third base, Bessie doesn't, so the man punches her in the face and leaves a scar on her head. She returns the favor by cutting his thigh with a piece of broken glass. Her temper would catch up with her though, one night after a successful performance she and a large group of people are partying backstage when another man calls Bessie a "fat bitch." Bessie corrects the man by slapping him and is just about to bash him over the head with a vase when she takes pity and tells him to leave. The man waits hours for her outside and stabs her prison style as she leaves the party. She survives of course, but takes a licking.

I loved the movie Bessie for the most part. All the performances from everybody in the film were fantastic, literally everybody brought they're "A" game. The one performance I was most impressed with was Mo'Nique (Precious) as Ma Rainey, Bessie protégé. Rainey was the first person to give Bessie a job as a dancer for her troupe having already earned success as a blues singer. She would later take note of Bessie's great singing voice and move her up the ladder from dancer to singer. Mo'Nique absolutely nails it as Rainey, a fair but tough business lady. Before Bessie, Rainey was the hot ticket in town. She was so hot she was able to waltz into any white owned dance club and make a list of demands including higher pay, and they would give into her. This performance proves that her academy award for the movie Precious was well deserved.

One big drawback for the film was that it felt extremely rushed. I know it's often hard to make a two-hour film chronicling a person's entire life, but scene and characters seemed to come and go within a matter of minute. It has also been pointed out on many message boards that this film to a lot of liberty in what actually happened in Bessie life, mostly her relationship with Ma Rainey. In the film it makes it look like Rainey was the one that taught Bessie to sing, when in real life this wasn't the case. The DVD for Bessie is barebones; a short documentary into the making of the film featuring interviews with the stars is all we get. Picture and audio are top notch, but I would have liked some more extra features.

With all that said Bessie is still an entertaining film with excellent acting. It probably won't be one you go back to watch that often, but if you're a fan of the blues, this movie should tickle your fancy
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cekadah23 May 2015
Bessie is a nicely produced flick about 'Bessie Smith the singer' with a little suggestion of 'Bessie Smith the person' sprinkled throughout the story. At movies end you don't feel you know something about her outside of her remarkable singing.

There are scenes of her rise from rags to riches and the family she tries to make but that's all you get through brief scenes and then it's back to her as a singer.

This isn't a bad movie, it's entertaining and Queen Latifah pulls out all the stops as Bessie the singer. But the ending leaves you pretty much where you were when you started the movie as far as Bessie the person is portrayed.
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robkle66616 August 2015
Well, i had very high expectations for this film after watching the trailer... but, it wasn't quite so. It actually was a good movie, but not what i expected. It could have been an epic, like La Mome or Ray, but it just missed that opportunity.

The story is somewhat incoherent, maybe it's the script, or just bad editing. There were some scenes that are short and take place in different times, so it becomes hard to follow and understand the story and the importance of those scenes. It's a little bit confusing at times and because of that the film loses flow. That is basically the one major flaw in this movie.

Apart from that, the actors did a great job, i've never seen Queen Latifah like this, she was wonderful. The music was great of course. The costumes, the set - beautiful.

In conclusion, i wouldn't call this a masterpiece, but it's not bad, i would recommend watching it on a Friday night with your loved one maybe. The plot is interesting, the music is wonderful, it sets that 20's mood and you'll have a great time for sure.
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Acting/Production A+ But Just Disappointing
davidallenwakefield19 August 2015
Great performances and cinematography but just disappointing it just did not capture me. That's no criticism of the performances they were just misses the mark.

Firstly make your own mind up but for me knowing a bit about her life story it seems to lack any emotion. There's a coldness to it, kind of this happened then this happened. In one scene where Bessie faces her sister it seems just flashed through. Considering the history between them it should have been a much more powerful moment. The movie does not draw the viewer in. In my opinion it lacks any depth.

I guess the script writing is what's wrong but am no expert it just misses the mark. Great performance by QL. Not something I would think about watching again.
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Lady sings the blues
Prismark1019 September 2015
I knew little about Bessie Smith before this film and really none the wiser after it. Her life story differed little from other Queen of Blues from that era.

Queen Latifah stars in this HBO film as Bessie Smith who was one of the most popular female blues singers in the 1920s and 30s.

The film takes an episodic look at her life as well as flashbacks to traumatic parts of her childhood. We see Bessie being transformed to a struggling act with her brother to have the stage presence to sing the blues. We see her dalliance with both men and women, her volatile temper and her dealings with crooked businessmen and the casual racism of the time.

The film like a lot of biopics these days has almost a cookie cutter approach totally lacking in originality. Just by the synopsis of the film I had a good idea what the story was going to be about. It had no surprises apart from seeing Queen Latifah in the nude.

The writing seems poor at times. Bessie suddenly adopts a boy and its implied her man (Jack Gee) is the father of this child. She becomes wealthy and suddenly we have the great depression and Bessie has downsized. The plot did not always flow too well and given Bessie died at a relatively young age in an automobile accident this was not covered in the film.

However the there is some good production values, set design and cinematography. The cast do their best despite the script.
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Feels like a TV movie
ReganRebecca12 February 2017
I knew nothing about Bessie Smith going into this movie. And after watching it I feel like I still know next to nothing. Bessie is the story of legendary '20s and '30s blues singer Bessie Smith. We meet Smith as she is starting out, playing small time nightclubs. She has a great voice and plenty of ambition, but she's going nowhere fast. That is until she spies Ma Rainey (Mo'Nique, stealing all the scenes) and learns to build her act up.

The problem with the film is that it tries to cover too much ground. It covers about 20 years in Bessie's life, from her start working in small clubs, to her success and decline and eventual comeback. The lack of focus makes the film feel abrupt as their are just too many characters and not enough of a through line as people come in and out of Bessie's life.

Queen Latifah does a good job as Smith. But ironically she ends up completely upstaged by Mo'nique even though in real life the reverse is true. Mo'nique has a small role and only appears in about the first quarter of a movie, but she simply owns every inch of the screen when she's on it. She has a beautiful voice, you can tell she's a singer just by the way she speaks, and a commanding swagger. Once she leaves she takes a lot of excitement with her. She leaves the impression that she could have handled a film about Ma Rainey. The rest of the cast is solid. Tika Sumpter looks gorgeous in a mostly nothing role, playing Smith's long time companion. Michael K. Williams manages to make a solid impression as a brash bodyguard turned lover as Smith's husband.

The real star of the show are the costumes. Note perfect, sumptuous and gorgeous they make every scene appealing and are always photographed to perfection. Even while the rest of the movie disappoints the clothing is always there to give something for the eye to enjoy.
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Despite some invented conflict between characters and truncated scenes, Queen Latifah shines in solid biopic of noted "Empress of the Blues"
Turfseer16 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A good number of years in the making, Bessie is an HBO biopic chronicling the life of Bessie Smith, aka The Empress of the Blues. Queen Latifah does a fine job not only depicting Bessie's both irascible and generous personality but sings some of her big hits that add to the overall verisimilitude of the film.

Bessie's parents died when she was very young so her older sister Viola took over raising all of the younger siblings in the family. There is no evidence however that Viola acted punitively in raising Bessie and that there was this great conflict between them. This is one instance in the film where history was bent in order to perhaps give the story some extra needed conflict.

Bessie's relationship to the noted blues singer, Ma Rainey (played convincingly by Mo'Nique), also was altered somewhat to perhaps give the narrative a little more spice. In reality, Bessie first became associated with Ma Rainey at the much younger age of 14. There is also little evidence that Bessie and Ma Rainey were at odds with each other and had a falling out over a purported rivalry. Later in the film Ma Rainey is seen to be joyfully dancing to one of Bessie's records and that's consistent with an account from Rainey's accompanist (as noted in the article "How Accurate is Bessie?" by Laura Bradley in Slate Magazine).

Bessie's relationship to her second husband, Jack Gee (played by the excellent Michael K. Williams of Boardwalk Empire fame), is fairly accurate, culminating in the true-to-life abduction of Bessie's adopted son by Gee, who left her after Bessie found out he backed a rival singer.

There are many more interesting things we find out about Bessie throughout the narrative—I found the scene of her first recording with Columbia Records fascinating as the primitive nature of recording music at that time (Bessie sings into a large drum) is quite apparent.

Other scenes prove quite gripping including Bessie being stabbed in her hometown after an argument in a club, her encounter with a racist novelist at an upscale part in New York City as well as Bessie chasing a bunch of Ku Klux Klansmen away from one of her tent concerts down south.

Some of the script feels truncated as the film's scenarists provide little buildup regarding a few major events in Bessie's life. I'm thinking how they gloss over how Bessie lost most of her fortune at the beginning of The Great Depression (did she lose a lot of her money in the stock market or was she also over generous with friends?); these are questions I would have liked answered. In addition, there is no context to her decision to adopt her young son, Jack. You never see her talking about adopting the boy—suddenly he appears at the family dinner table, out of the blue.

With changing musical tastes, Bessie's popularity dwindled somewhat in the 1930's. It was up to famed producer John Hammond, to arrange for Bessie's big comeback concert and last recordings in NYC. But Hammond was quoted as saying much later on that he was a little disappointed that Bessie declined to sing her trademark blues substituting more popular big band songs of the time.

Writer/director Dee Ree's decision not to depict the car crash that claimed the life of Bessie Smith may have been a missed opportunity to clear up a persistent myth about her death promulgated by the likes of such luminaries as playwright Edward Albee in his play "The Death of Bessie Smith." It was Albee's thesis that Smith may have survived the car crash had she been allowed admittance to a nearby "whites only" hospital. The truth of the matter was that Bessie already was severely injured having lost a large amount of blood with part of her arm being severed. In addition, due to the racism of the times, no hospital that catered to whites would have considered treating Bessie, and those at the scene of the crash would not have considering bringing her to one.

Bessie is a well-done biopic that captures the life and times of Bessie Smith. Queen Latifah does an excellent job in depicting the positive and negative sides of the famed singer's personality. In the name of dramatic license, some conflict between the characters was invented to enhance the story. Other events feel a bit rushed—although most of events depicted are fairly true to life. Bessie is recommended as it depicts an important chapter in both African-American and American musical history.
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Oh Where Oh Where Has Little Bessie's Song Gone! Where Oh Where Can it BE?
japonaliya21 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers

OK. this is going to be the shortest review you have ever read.....

How can one take this movie seriously when Bessie Smith's greatest song. "Nobody Knows You" (When You're Down and Out" isn't in the movie!!!!!!!!!(or did I sleep through it?)

I first heard of Bessie Smith through the John Hammond sessions sparked by The 1960's Spencer Davis Group's version of the song, sung by Stevie Winwood. Maybe it was a copyright thing like in the Jimi Hendrix bio, but I doubt it as the song is so old. This would be like the George Gershwin Story without Rhapsody in Blue! Or Billy Holiday bio without Strange Fruit! Finally, this quote from Wiki:

"Bessie Smith recorded the song with instrumental accompaniment, including a small trumpet section. When Smith's record was released on September 13, 1929 (a Friday), the lyrics turned out to be oddly prophetic. The New York stock market had reached an all-time high less than two weeks earlier, only to go into its biggest decline two weeks later in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which signaled the beginning of the ten-year Great Depression.

Bessie Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" became one of her biggest hits, but was released before "race records" were tracked by record industry publications, such as Billboard magazine.

*******Today, it "more than any other, is the song that most people associate with Bessie Smith".[3]******

Q.L was fine as an actress. she can sing and did a reasonable Smith impression, but when all is said and done (according to THIS HBO movie, nothing much happens to Bessie, esp compared to Billy Holiday, or Ray Charles etc. etc Lost her mother, raised by a tyrannical older sister, otherwise not much real drama. The only nod to the dramatic is when her husband leaves her and takes their adopted son away, and of course the haunted locked refrigerator!!

Not very much the scheme of things to sing the blues about
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Hollywood Fluff
agray-4162210 February 2019
What a waste of Hollywood dollars. They needed to get a director that was interested in the depth. So many things were skimmed over or sweetened to avoid being offensive except for the lesbianism. Since the director is a lesbian she certainly drove that down your throat which is fine. Bessie was bisexual but that's not all she was. The director was childlike in her approach. She obviously had not studied Bessie enough. I guess Latifah may have been the best choice but Latifah played Latifah like she does in every movie she's in. That's not bad either but not appropriate for this movie. I deeply studied Bessie and this movie is no where near accurate and people tend to believe what they see in movies. Especially if it is biographical in nature. What a shame that this era of history was so ignorantly presented. Costumes were fair. Scenery was pretty good. But Bessie was a lot more raw and cunning that the director presented. The party where Bessie gets stabbed. In the movie it was all flashbacks and laying in the street. No! In real life Bessie took off after the guy that stabbed her with the knife still sticking out of her until she couldn't run anymore. It was this type of energy that the film did not catch. Ruby Walker was barely touched on and made to look like some goofy little teenager. The Van Vechten party was all wrong. It was Okeh records that she auditioned for and spat - not Black Swan. Things that could have been really funny were lack luster. Monique looked great as Ma Rainey and did a good job but there were definite things about Ma that weren't touched on. Monique was much more believable than Latifah. Latifah doesn't have the vocal qualities that Bessie had but even a long shot. The vocals she did for the movie sounded like the Dana Owens album. They should have used original music and had her lip synch. It was a very poor presentation all the way around. It was all just sensationalism. Bessie life was sensational enough if they would have taken the time to actually study it and present it properly. She didn't have a mansion. She had an apartment in Philadelphia and bought properties for her relatives to stay. The whole story of Snooks was wrong and didn't even use the name Snooks. The rendition of Gimme A Pig Foot at the end was colossal! Hopefully this movie will just die away and be forgotten and they can do another one that's better. The whole aspect of Gertrude and Bessie was omitted. That's what split Bessie and Jack up. Gertrude was NOT part of Bessie's show! There were only one of two of Bessie's songs in the whole movie. It missed out on some of the greatest blues numbers of the period. The references to Ma's songs were spot on as far as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Prove It On Me Blues. Monique's voice didn't fit Ma's either but it was closer than Latifah's. Ma sounded like a man but her voice was not raspy or gravely - just low. But Monique looked a lot like her and definitely portrayed her very well. This was a very very weak movie and flew through stuff to where you really don't get the picture at all. So many famous names were just stuck in there really fast. Bessie was all show business. She loved having a good time. She loved her people. She didn't suffer fools gladly. She spoke her mind. She fought like a man. She loved hard. She drank hard. She was not a homebody. It's such a shame that so many wonderful stories were completely omitted and then the ones that were included were so watered down and told incorrectly.
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an introduction
Kirpianuscus17 June 2016
an introduction to a splendid career and bitter life. beautiful, seductive, impressing in few scenes. but only a good and useful introduction to the universe of Bessie Smith. and this is not a real surprise. it represents the recipes of many biopics who use great cast, splendid costumes, recreates the spirit of period but the afraid to make mistakes impose only a sketch of presented personality. sure, it is enough to listen her music for understand it. and against my belief than Viola Davies could be the best choice for the role of Bessie Smith, Queen Latifah does a great job. but not the slices of life, as isolated pieces from a puzzle are the wrong fact but the end who seems be not reasonable. to difficult to recreate in the most inspired manner a spectacular career, Bessie Smith becomes a symbol. a reasonable choice. but, maybe, not the best.
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nogodnomasters14 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
This is an HBO film based on the real life of blues singer Bessie Smith ( Queen Latifah). The film basically starts when she is an adult, forcing her way into the travel show of Ma Rainey (Mo'Nique). Going on her own, the film highlights her many ups and downs, including bad relationships and love for alcohol.

The costumes, props and performances were excellent.

Guide: F-bomb, sex, nudity.
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