Thursday, June 11, 2015

Movie Review: Bessie

Rating: *****

Singing, dancing and a strong message -- you can't go wrong. First, the music was worth the movie, but the acting and themes stole the show, especially for young women and girls. Now the graphic moments (wish they weren't there) made the movie hard to show preteens and girls, but the message about self-love was way more important that I just covered my daughter's eyes when the moments were not appropriate. As a parent, though, measure your teen's maturity before you allow viewing.

Young Bessie Smith is traumatized as a child by family members. As a strong girl she manages past the absence of her mother and abusive older sister, but it haunts her entire life. She scrapes and climbs to the top of the early vaudeville circuit and 20's era, and men and sex become symbols of her pain, sense of alienation, and low self-esteem and self-regard. Early on Ma Rainey, another famous singer, recognizes her lack of self-love and tries to help her by pointing it out. Bessie becomes defensive and diverts her journey to rise to the top of her profession. In the meantime, she scandalously and without a moral compass allows men to use and abuse her, but also she gives back just as much hurt to her husband in particular.

When alcohol and drug abuse bring her to her knees, her reckoning and "awakening" begins. "You have to love your damned self," Ma Rainey cries in the early scenes. And therein lies for women the central message. Money, men, alcohol and public acclaim just can't fill her black hole of hurt. Once she focuses on loving herself she begins the healing process.

I don't want to give away the ending. I just hope women everywhere who suffer these problems will watch this incredible woman (as portrayed through Queen Latifah's spot-on and beautiful performance) experience her journey and come out the other end. It's an important movie, as important as The Color Purple.

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