Queen Latifah Going Nude In 'Bessie' Could Win Her An Emmy, But Not For The Reason You'd Think
I have no doubt that when Queen Latifah took the lead role in HBO's Bessie, she knew she was doing something special. The film has taken eons to come together — in fact the film's writer and director Dee Rees was brought on to do a rewrite of the project before she became the director — but in the end, we've got a final product that is a clear labor of love. And while there are so many performances in this film worth praising, the one we'll all be talking about tomorrow is Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith, namely the nude scene that absolutely clinches her stake for a 2015 Emmy. But, there's much more to this all important scene than a simple lack of clothing.
I'm not saying that an actress stripping down for a single scene is all it takes to win an award. I would kick myself right out of here if I was. I'm also not saying that this singular moment was the only time the film's lead actress did something incredible. Latifah sings Smith's songs as if they were her own and her dramatic performance throughout Bessie is incredible: She takes us through every corner of Smith's life, from her well-known partnerships and marriage to Jack Gee (Michael K. Williams) to her lesser known relationships with women (in particular, a young woman named Lucille, played to perfection by Tika Sumpter), to her professional struggles in the recording industry, and her familial tension with sister Viola (Scandal's Khandi Alexander, who's perfectly prickly as always). It never feels like Latifah is slipping into someone else's shoes the way Bessie slips into her role model Ma Rainey's (Mo'Nique, in another great performance) golden slippers. Latifah is Bessie.
Thanks in great part to writer and director Dee Rees (above with Latifah), there's not a wasted minute in this film, and yet, the moment in which Bessie sits at her vanity, naked from head to toe, and strips away all her stage effects (makeup, bob-length wig, headdress and earrings) after watching as her life and career hit snags that she hadn't anticipated is an extremely powerful moment.
Some actresses would be fine to sit and allow the props and camera work do most of the talking — after all, the sheer actions of this scene do plenty of heavy lifting all on their own, as does Rees' direction. But clothed or not, Latifah is what makes this scene so engrossing. It's a true test for an actor to be able to pull something like this off: To carry the emotional crux of the film in this short, simple, and brave scene in which not only the protagonist, but the actress herself is made to bare all, down to the depths of her soul. This scene is true vulnerability, through and through, and it's beautiful to watch.
Bessie's mirror scene marks a rare quiet moment in the film, but it is absolutely everything and if it doesn't win this woman an Emmy, there is no justice in the television world.
Image: Frank Masi/HBO (2)