It's been four years since Dee Rees' first film, Pariah, put her on the map at Sundance. The film, about a lesbian teenager struggling with her sexual identity, won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award later that year. Her latest film Bessie, which premiered on HBO, expands on those themes of sexual identity and the search for love, but this time, through the lens of one of the greatest blues performers of the 20th century, Bessie Smith.
To Rees, who like Bessie Smith is a Tennessee native, getting involved in the project was a no-brainer. After 20 years in development, she took on the script and worked with its star, Queen Latifah, to get the film made in two. "She was selling America exactly what they do not want," Rees says, "A big black woman with a very powerful voice."
Photo: Frank Masi/HBO