Dee Rees

‘Bessie’: Unapologetically Black, Female, and Queer

The Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith. Mood:Indigo

‘Bessie’ is one of the rare mainstream films that shows an unapologetically Black, female and queer protagonist. That alone is groundbreaking in an otherwise straightforward biopic.

‘Bessie’: A Mainstream Portrait of Black Queer Women by a Black Queer Woman

bessieHBOCover

The difference between ‘Bessie’ and the similar bio-pics about Black performers of the Jim Crow era is in the details. We see Bessie (played by Queen Latifah, in the affable, spirited persona she usually brings to roles: she’s also in good voice even though no one could be Smith’s equal) fail the “paper bag test” a Black impresario uses for the women he recruits to his revue. Smith is darker than the paper bag (as is Latifah, though not as dark as Smith was) so in spite of her talent, she’s out. Later, when she has her own revue, she uses the same test, but this time the recruits have to be darker than the bag, eliminating the women Bessie calls, “high yellow bitches.”

Mo’Nique Returns to the Spotlight in ‘Bessie’

Mo'Nique

The film also focuses on the relationship between Smith and Ma Rainey, who mentored Smith and gave her guidance on developing her stagecraft. Mo’Nique portrays Ma Rainey, known as the “Mother of the Blues,” in a rich and layered performance and has so much charisma she steals every scene she’s in.

One to Watch Out For: HBO’s ‘Bessie’

A portrait of Bessie Smith by Carl van Vechten

There is, nevertheless, something magical about Bessie’s life and career. How did an impoverished, orphaned Black girl who spent her childhood singing on the streets not only survive but succeed in a land that still lynched its Black citizens? There is something profoundly modern and heroic about the woman herself. An independent woman with attitude and talent, she has to be one of the most charismatic feminist icons of the 20th century.

One to Watch Out For: HBO’s ‘Bessie’

A portrait of Bessie Smith by Carl van Vechten

There is, nevertheless, something magical about Bessie’s life and career. How did an impoverished, orphaned Black girl who spent her childhood singing on the streets not only survive but succeed in a land that still lynched its Black citizens? There is something profoundly modern and heroic about the woman herself. An independent woman with attitude and talent, she has to be one of the most charismatic feminist icons of the 20th century.

Women of Color in Film and TV: ‘Pariah’

Pariah (2011), a film by Dee Rees Guest post written by Janyce Denise Glasper, originally published at Sugary Gingersnap. Cross posted with permission. An astounding, vibrant piece of finely weaved storytelling and thoughtfully spoken artistry, this independent film centers on Brooklyn high school teen, Alike (pronounced ah-lik-e) an exceptionally good student and aspiring poet from […]

LGBTQI Week: "I’m Not Running, I’m Choosing": ‘Pariah’ and Gender Performance

Warning: spoilers ahead!! “Who do you become if you can’t be yourself?” Pariah, my absolute favorite film of 2011, tackles that question.  Written and directed by Dee Rees and produced by Nekisa Cooper, the powerful Pariah tells the story of Alike (Adepero Oduye in an astounding performance), a 17-year-old black lesbian in Brooklyn. Studious, artistic […]

LGBTQI Week: Pariah

Pariah (2011) This review by Monthly Guest Contributor Carrie Nelson previously appeared at Bitch Flicks on January 25, 2012.  I enjoyed many films in 2011. All of my favorite films of the year, however, were the ones that unnerved me with their honesty, sticking in my thoughts long after the end credits rolled. One of […]

Bitch Flicks’ Weekly Picks

Amber‘s Picks: Jon Avnet, Rodrigo Garcia Launch Web Series and Shorts to Explore ‘Female Characters’ from Thompson on Hollywood Woman with a Lens Restored: The Shirley Clarke Project by Manohla Dargis for The New York Times The Status of Women’s Film Festivals from Women and Hollywood Megan‘s Picks: How to Lose Your Virginity Documentary Project by […]

Women & Gender at the 2012 Indie Spirit Awards

(L-R): ‘Pariah’ Producer Nekisa Cooper & Writer/Director Dee Rees, winning John Cassavetes Award So I groaned the moment I discovered Seth Rogen was hosting the Independent Spirit Awards, which aired last Saturday night on IFC. I mean, after his shitshow appearance at the Golden Globes, making that sexual harassment comment to Kate Beckinsale on-stage, I’m […]

2012 NAACP Image Awards Nominations

The 43rd NAACP Image Awards air Friday, February 17th In the midst of awards season, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with which awards are happening and when, and it’s easy to start thinking that the same movies/shows/actors/directors are being nominated for all the awards (for example, there are striking similarities between this year’s Academy and […]

Guest Writer Wednesday: Review – Pariah

Pariah (2011) This is a guest post from Carrie Nelson. I enjoyed many films in 2011. All of my favorite films of the year, however, were the ones that unnerved me with their honesty, sticking in my thoughts long after the end credits rolled. One of those films was Martha Marcy May Marlene, which I’ve […]