Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith. Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith. Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith. I’m sorry, have you really not watched this film? Because you need to get on it right now. HBO’s four-Emmy-winning televison biopic about blues singer legend Bessie Smith is gorgeous, moving, and deliciously queer.
In the 1920s and 30s, Harlem was a place where queer people congregated; though most of them were married to men, singers like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Gladys Bentley were known to take female lovers and flirt openly with women while touring and sometimes performed in men’s clothing. They all wrote songs that explicitly mentioned lesbian love, which was really unheard of outside of the Harlem Renaissance at that time in America. In Bessie Smith’s song “The Boy in the Boat,” she wrote “When you see two women walking hand in hand, just look ’em over and try to understand: They’ll go to those parties, have the lights down low, only those parties where women can go.”
Bessie’s sexuality is just one aspect of this incredible film about her life and rise to fame, but it’s definitely there, not sanitized out by Hollywood, with Mo’nique playing the fiercely queer and loving Ma Rainey and Tika Sumpter playing Bessie’s lover, Lillian Simpson.AUTOSTRADDLE
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