Out screenwriter and director Dee Rees, the woman behind the 2011 film Pariah about a 17-year-old high school student from Brooklyn who quietly embraces her attraction to other women, has been announced as the writer and director of a new HBO biopic about the legendary jazz singer Bessie Smith. Queen Latifah has signed on to executive produce the film and star as Smith.
Smith was one of the most celebrated performers and recording artists of the 20s and 30s, earning her the title the "Empress of Blues." She was also known for her tumultuous personal life including her marriage to Jack Gee and affairs with women. Smith died in a car accident in 1937.
Rees received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film - Limited Release at the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards for Pariah, as well as the Indie Spirit Award. She spoke with GLAAD at the time about the importance of telling LGBT stories on-screen, "I made Pariah to portray images on screen that we hadn’t seen before, and to bring to light the experiences of gay youth of color because those stories hadn't been fully told. The film experience is powerful because by taking you into the world of Pariah for ninety minutes, I can prove to you that we all are more alike than different. We all have dealt with the coming of age process and figuring out how to be ourselves."