Bisexual Bessie Smith Biopic Stars Mo’Nique and Queen Latifah

bessie-latifah (HBO Films)


Queen Latifah may not discuss the years of rumors of her bisexuality, but she doesn’t mind playing one on TV. She will be portraying the out, brave and bisexual Bessie Smith in “Bessie” on HBO debuting on May 16 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT).

Latifah will co-star with Mo’Nique who toured with her in 2006 on the Sugar Water Tour. Both actresses were nominated for Supporting Actor honors at the Academy Awards, and Mo’Nique won for “Precious” in 2009. Latifah was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for playing a bisexual role in “Chicago” in 2002.

Press and audiences alike thought that Queen Latifah came out of the closet when she went on stage at the LGBT Pride Festival in Long Beach, and announced that she could “really feel the unity.” But, she didn’t come out.  The actress told Entertainment Weekly that she didn’t make any definitive statements about her sexuality on stage and she simply won’t.

She has said she won’t be talking about any personal stuff on her talk show, either and told the Hollywood Reporter she is not prepared to talk about her sexuality. She told Glamour magazine:

“I don’t feel the need to discuss my private life on this show or any other show. There’s the part of my life that the public and I share together. And there’s the part that’s mine to keep for myself. And that’s mine. For me. I’ve never dealt with the question of my personal life in public. It’s just not gonna happen.”

She told The New York Times in an interview in 2008: “I don’t have a problem discussing the topic of somebody being gay, but I do have a problem discussing my personal life… I don’t care if people think I’m gay or not. Assume whatever you want. You do it anyway.”

Anyway, Latifah relishes playing the legendary blues singer who is often considered one of the greatest blues singers of all time. Known as The Empress of the Blues during her career, she rose to fame in the 1920s and 1930s in vaudeville.

She was also a noted and unabashed bisexual, known to have affairs with women while being married to Jack Gee, who knew of his famed wife’s dalliances. The biopic is said to explore the queer world of that era, and not tiptoe around the issue of Bessie Smith’s bisexuality.

The film will be directed by lesbian writer and director Dee Rees, who was recently listed as an Out Magazine 100 honoree.

Bessie Smith was a married woman who kept a female lover and had many during her tours, being quoted once as saying: “I got 12 women on this show, and I can have one every night if I want it.”

Mo’Nique will play blues legend Ma Rainey who is known for her bisexual lyrics. The movie also stars Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) as Bessie’s husband, Jack Gee; Khandi Alexander as Bessie’s older sister, Viola; Tory Kittles as Bessie’s older brother, Clarence; Mike Epps as Richard, a bootlegger and romantic interest; Tika Sumpter as Lucille, a performer and romantic interest; Oliver Platt as famed photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten; Bryan Greenberg as renowned record producer and music critic John Hammond; with Charles S. Dutton as Ma Rainey’s husband, William “Pa” Rainey.

In Smith’s famous  The Boy in the Boat, she sang:

“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 — o

nly those parties where women can go.”


monique-bessiex750 (HBO Films)


Mike Szymanski
Mike Szymanski has written about bisexual issues since 1989 and has one of the longest-running regular bisexual columns as the National Bisexuality Examiner. He came out as bisexual in a cover story of Genre magazine, which resulted in more than 50 television appearances, including Ricki Lake, Phil Donahue Show and 20/20. Szymanski won the Lambda Literary Award in 2007 for co-authoring an informative humor book “The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe: Quips, Tips and Lists for Those Who Go Both Ways.” Write him at [email protected]