Written by | Ray Cornelius 

I had the pleasure of attending a private screening Monday night for the new HBO film, “Bessie” starring Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique and Tika Sumpter. The advanced screening was held at the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University and was hosted by the film’s producer Shelby Stone and the film’s star Tory Kittles. “Bessie” also features Michael K. Williams, Khandi Alexander and Mike Epps.

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 “Bessie” actors Tory Kittles and Sylvester James

“Bessie” stars Latifah as legendary blues singer and actress Bessie Smith. The film, which took 22 years to make, takes an intimate look at the determined woman, whose immense talent and love for music took her from anonymity in the rough-and-tumble world of vaudeville to the 1920s blues scene and international fame, capturing her professional highs and personal lows, and ultimate legend. The film was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Dee Rees of “Pariah” fame and is executive produced by Latifah’s Flavor Unit. Smith was known as the “Empress of the Blues” and influenced such illustrious singers as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Janis Joplin and Nina Simone.

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 Jasmine Burke, Jasmine Guy and Shelby Stone

A  number of Atlanta celebrities were in attendance including film and stage actresses, Donna Bisco and Maria Howell; legendary casting director, Reuben Cannon and his wife, “Drumline 2” actress, Jasmine Burke; “Living Single” actor, T.C. Carson, “A Different World” star, Jasmine Guy; comedic actor, Rodney Perry; Bronze Lens Film Festival Founder, Kathleen Bertrand, media personality, Karyn Greer; and actress, Tammy McGarity.

“Bessie” was film mostly in the Atlanta metropolitan area and featured a number of recognizable singers, actors and  jazz musicians including Kamryn Johnson, Sylvester JamesJoe Knezevich, Reggie Hines, Joe GransdenDashill Smith and more.

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After the screening I attended a private dinner with HBO and the film’s stars at the Ritz Carlton. I also received a “Bessie” pocket watch and one of the film’s iconic posters with Tory Kittles signature.

My2Cents: “Bessie” will do for Queen Latifah, what “The Josephine Baker Story” did for Lynn Whitfield. Latifah nailed this role and should receive an Emmy nomination for Best Actress. The film tells the story of an amazingly talented woman who was unapologetic about who she was and who she loved. Her music was wrought in pain but opened a door for so many African-American singers, we deem legendary, to walk through. Casting is always king for any film and I believe the actors chosen for their respective roles were “right on the money.” Kudos to HBO and Latifah! I can’t wait for it to premiere on May 16.”

Check out more photos below and along with the film’s trailer:

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 Dresses worn by Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique were on display in the theater’s lobby

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Actresses Maria Howell and Donna Bisco

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Comedic actor Rodney Perry

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 Actress Tammy McGarity

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 T.C. Carson and Jasmine Guy

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Reuben Cannon and his wife

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 “Bessie” actors Kamryn Johnson and Sylvester James

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 BLFF’s Kathleen Bertrand with Karyn Greer

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 Author Mary “Honey B” Morrison with Christal Jordan of Enchanted PR

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 ATL Notables: Jacquee Mnor, Kemi Bennings, Margaret Kargbo, Leatrice Ellzy & Imara Canady

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 “Bessie” actors Tory Kittles, Sylvester James and Reggie Hines

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“Bessie” producer Shelby Stone bringing greetings before the screening

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Queen Latifah delivered a special message to the Atlanta audience before the show

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Donna Bisco with “Bessie” actor Joe Knezevich

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“Bessie” received a proclamation from the City of Atlanta

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Dancer/actor  Juel D. Lane

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AAFCA’s Gil Robertson and  Georgia Film Office’s Asante Bradford

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Maria Howell, Brad James and Donna Bisco

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Attendees received free refreshments

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“Bessie” actors

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“Bessie” actors, singers and dancers

BESSIE premieres on HBO May 16th

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com

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