Unsung Heroines: Queer Women Who Deserve Their Own Biopics

Bessie Smith (1894 — 1937)

BIOPIC-WORTHY BECAUSE: The bisexual singer (dubbed "The Empress of the Blues") was the most popular and talented blues singer of her time and influenced generations of jazz and rock vocalists that followed.

Bessie Smith

THE SUPPORTING CAST: Smith’s first husband Jack Gee (whom she never bothered to divorce), and "The Mother of the Blues" Ma Rainey.

Rainey, who was also bisexual, is deserving of her own biopic. The legendary singer was arrested in Chicago in 1925 for hosting an "indecent" party (full of half-naked naked women). "Prove It On Me Blues," her 1928 song celebrating lesbianism, makes today’s "I Kissed A Girl" sound positively chaste. (Can you imagine Katy Perry singing Rainey’s song "Bull Dyker’s Dream?" Me neither.)

Ma Rainey

SHOULD STAR: This project practically screams for the many talents of Queen Latifah (Chicago), who  has long been rumored to be interested in playing the role of Bessie Smith on film. But who would have the chops to share the screen with the Queen and also embody the larger-than-life personality of Ma Rainey?

I nominate Grammy-winning singer Jill Scott, who has already played one blues legend, Big Mama Thornton (in Hounddog), and has proven she can act with as much charisma as she sings.

Queen Latifah (in Chicago) and Jill Scott (in Hounddog)

PLOT POINTS: The movie would require depiction of Smith’s early impoverished life in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she and her brother worked as street performers to help support their family. In 1912, Smith joins the Stokes troupe as a dancer (where she meets Rainey) and eventually develops her own stage act with which she tours the South.

In 1923, Smith is signed by Columbia Records. After that, Smith became the biggest headliner on the black Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) circuit and was the highest-paid black entertainer of her day. Her star would have likely continued to rise if not for the Great Depression, which nearly bankrupted the recording industry. That, along with the rise of "talkie" films, ruined the careers of many vaudeville players, including Smith

Smith’s short life had all the dramatic elements needed for a good biopic, from her tragic death in a car accident at the age of 43 and her first husband’s theft of the money raised for her proper burial, to bisexual rocker Janis Joplin’s 1970 purchase of a tombstone for Smith’s long unmarked grave.

TAKE A POPCORN BREAK: When Smith joins the cast of bad Broadway musical, Pansy, in 1923. The critics probably panned it for a reason.

SHOULD BE DIRECTED BY: Cheryl Dunye, whose 1996 Watermelon Woman has already set the stage for a journey back through history to find the truth about the life of a famous queer black performer from the 1930s.

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