Queen Latifah to Portray Iconic Blues Singer in HBO's BESSIE
Oscar(R) nominee Queen Latifah ("Chicago") stars as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in HBO Films' BESSIE, written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Dee Rees ("Pariah"). Currently in production in Atlanta and debuting in 2015, 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 1920s and an enduring icon today. The cast also features Michael K. Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Tory Kittles, Oliver Platt, Bryan Greenberg, Charles S. Dutton and Mo'Nique. BESSIE is executive produced by Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere, Lili Fini Zanuck, Shelby Stone and Randi Michel.
Michael K. Williams (HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"; "12 Years a Slave") stars as Bessie's husband, Jack. Khandi Alexander ("Scandal," HBO's "Treme") plays Bessie's big sister, Viola. Mike Epps ("The Hangover," "Soul Men") plays Richard, a bootlegger and romantic interest. Tika Sumpter ("Ride Along," "Sparkle") plays Lucille, a performer and romantic interest. Oliver Platt ("X-Men: First Class," "Fargo," "Chef") plays famed photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten. Bryan Greenberg ("Friends with Benefits," HBO's "How to Make It in America") portrays renowned record producer and music critic John Hammond. Tory Kittles (HBO's "True Detective"; "Olympus Has Fallen") plays Bessie's older brother, Clarence. Charles S. Dutton ("Longmire," "Alien 3") portrays Ma Rainey's husband, William "Pa" Rainey. Mo'Nique ("Precious," "The Parkers") portrays blues legend Ma Rainey.
Award-winning actress, musician, talk-show host, bestselling author and business executive Queen Latifah boasts an impressive list of honors, including a Golden Globe, Emmy(R) Award, Image Awards, Grammys and multiple SAG Awards. In 1993, with Shakim Compere, she formed the successful production company Flavor Unit Entertainment, which manages artists and produces film and television projects.
Latifah was only 19 years old when she was hailed as "first lady of rap" with the release of her hit album "All Hail the Queen." Platinum-selling and multiple-Grammy-nominated titles followed, including "The Dana Owens Album" and "Trav'lin' Light."
She made her film debut in "Jungle Fever" and has since appeared in more than 40 feature films, including "Living Out Loud," "The Bone Collector," "Bringing Down the House," "Hairspray," "The Secret Life of Bees," "Beauty Shop," "Joyful Noise" and several movies in the "Ice Age" franchise. Her role as Matron Mama Morton in "Chicago" earned her Oscar(R) and Golden Globe nominations. She won a Golden Globe and SAG Award and was nominated for an Emmy(R) for her lead role as Ana in HBO Films' "Life Support," a moving, true story about the African-American community's HIV Crisis through the eyes of a Survivor who is a mother, former addict and AIDS activist.
In 2013, she launched the hit talk show "The Queen Latifah Show," which returns in the fall.
Filmmaker Dee Rees was critically acclaimed for her feature film "Pariah," about a teen who struggles with her sexual identity. It won Best Independent Film from the African-American Film Critics Association and Best Cinematography Award at Sundance 2011, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. The film and Rees also received multiple nominations from the Black Reel Awards and Black Film Critics Circle.
Rees' documentary feature "Eventual Salvation" received a 2007 Sundance Documentary Fund Grant and premiered on the sundance CHANNEL in Oct. 2009. Her other credits include "Orange Bow," "Colonial Gods," "Inside Man" and HBO's "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts."
The New York Times selected Rees "One of the 20 Directors to Watch" and Filmmaker Magazine called her one of "25 New Faces of Independent Film."