When the HBO biopic based on Bessie Smith’s life airs Saturday, viewers may very well choose to focus on the dynamic of the relationship between Smith and Ma Rainey. Queen Latifah, who plays the titular character, recently spoke with BET, and she empathized with those drawn to the relationship but also expressed hopes they didn’t fixate on it during the entire movie. Latifah also played a lesbian character named Cleo in the 1996 action film, Set It Off, and she drew parallels between the audience’s reaction to Cleo and potential reactions to Smith and Rainey.
“We did a screening premiere here in New York for Set It Off, and we invited the entire Hip Hop community,” Latifah recalled during her interview with BET. “I mean everybody was there. When that part came, it was like, ‘Whoa!’ There was an eruption in the audience. People feel a type of way when they see any type of sexuality on screen. I think it’s almost human nature…”
For her part, Academy Award-winning actress Mo’Nique simplified the dynamic, refusing to identify it as specifically lesbian or bi-sexual.
“You saw two people who loved each other,” Mo’Nique said of Smith and Rainey. “You saw two people that were sexually attracted to one another. So we stopped focusing so much on, ‘They were two women,’ or ‘They were two men.’ They were just two human beings.’”