The screenplay needed to be fuller. I wasn't completely satisfied like I was when I saw Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter, Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams, Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.
What we do have is impressive and underscores Hollywood's need to get a grip and embrace diversity. Bessie was directed by a young African American female I first became aware of because of Meryl Streep. In a live Los Angeles interview the night Streep won her third Oscar (Best Actress for 2011's The Iron Lady), she told the reporter that there easily could have been more than five nominees for Best Actress. She hailed the Kim Wayans performance in the drama, Pariah, written and directed by Dee Rees. I rented the indie feature by the new filmmaker and agreed with Meryl Streep. Wayans was amazing as the proper Brooklyn mother coping with her teen daughter's coming out. Dee Rees directed and co-wrote Bessie. Here's a trailer.
Brash Bessie has talent but hasn't learned stage technique. She doesn't connect emotionally to her material. She hasn't learned how to sell a song and win an audience. She learns this from blues star Ma Rainey. Oscar winner Mo'Nique brings it as Ma Rainey. She is flat-out fabulous. Her Rainey is a no-nonsense, disciplined lesbian mentor to Bessie. Ma is a tough woman who knows the game of show biz and how to deal with white folks who try to play her for a fool. Some of Latifah's strongest dramatic moments are in scenes with Mo'Nique. Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique -- two actresses who started on TV sitcoms (Latifah on Living Single and Mo'Nique on The Parkers). Both went on to Oscar nominations.
Mo'Nique was so marvelous, it made me think maybe she should be in a movie version of August Wilson's play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. The late black playwright August Wilson won two Pulitzer Prizes. However, neither of his award-winning plays -- Fences (on Broadway, 1987) or The Piano Lesson (on Broadway, 1990) -- has been turned into a big screen movie like other award-winning Broadway plays. The 2010 revival of Fences won top Tony Awards as did the original production. The revival starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
The Bessie Smith story should've already been made into a major Hollywood movie. I have a feeling folks tried to accomplish that. HBO's Bessie is worth seeing. Go to HBO.com and see when its airing again. Don't be surprised of Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique get Emmy nominations for their work.