Queen Latifah and “Pariah” director Dee Rees team up for Bessie Smith biopic

Apparently, it takes a queen to step into the shoes of one of The Empress of the Blues. Queen Latifah is moving forward with a biopic on legendary blues singer Bessie Smith with out writer and director Dee Rees helming the project.

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So many good things are happening in that last sentence, let’s break it all down. Indiewire’s Shadow and Act reports that according to industry service Production Weekly, the project is in development with Rees writing and directing and Latifah as star. A production date of mid-June in Atlanta is planned with HBO, The Zanuck Company, Shelby Stone Productions and Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment as backers.

Smith, nicknamed The Empress of the Blues, is considered one of the greatest blues singers of all time. During her career in the 1920s and 30s she was one of the most successful African-American singers and vaudeville artists of her time. She was also bisexual and is reported to have had affairs with women during her tumultuous marriage to Jack Gee at the height of her career.

Photo of Bessie Smith

In later years the Great Depression and alcoholism wreaked havoc on her career. Then in 1937, Smith died after an automobile accident at the age of 43.

Rees is the writer-director of the 2011 breakout Sundance darling Pariah. The semi-autobiographical coming-out story of a 17-year-old African-American lesbian high school student in Brooklyn was Rees’ feature debut.

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According to Indiewire that the film will be titled Blue Goose Hollow, after the area in Tennessee where Smith grew up. It will also reportedly “debunk many of the myths that have circulated about her since her untimely death in 1937.”

Latifah is in the midst of the first season of her new hit daytime talk show The Queen Latifah Show. (It also happens to star AfterEllen favorite Bridget McManus.) The show has already been renewed for a second season.

The Bessie Smith biopic has long been a pet project of Latifah’s. And back in 2009, AfterEllen speculated on who should play Smith in a dream cast for a movie on the singer. Our choice, naturally, was Latifah.

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So in my book it doesn’t get much better than having your dream actress team up with an out writer-director to do a movie about a bisexual singing icon.

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