Queen Latifah to Star as Bessie Smith in HBO Biopic

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“I don’t feel the need to discuss my private life on this show or any other show,” Latifah says. “There’s the part of my life that the public and I share together. And there’s the part that’s mine to keep for myself. And that’s mine. For me.” Photo by Lorenzo Agius.

Queen Latifah is heading to HBO.

The rapper, actress, and talk show host will star in and exec produce a Bessie Smith biopic for the premium cable network.

The telepic revolves around iconic blues singer Smith as she overcomes the challenges of her tempestuous personal life to become one of the most acclaimed performers and recording artists of the 1920s and '30s, to be known forevermore as the "Empress of the Blues." The film is based on Smith's life story and Bessie, author Chris Albertson's biography of the iconic singer.

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Pariah's Dee Rees will pen the script and direct the movie. Latifah will executive produce the HBO Films and Zanuck Co. movie via her Flavor Unit Entertainment banner. Lili Fini Zanuck, Richard Zanuck, Shakim Compere, Shelby Stone and Randi Michel will also exec produce. Hallie Foote is on board to co-exec produce and Ron Schmidt will produce.

For her part, Rees earned an Indie Spirit Award for her work on Pariah, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and won the cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Bessie Smith project marks the latest small-screen endeavor for Latifah, who most recently starred in Lifetime's Steel Magnolias reboot. Her Flavor Unit recently struck an overall deal with BET and Centric to revive VH1's scripted series Single Ladies. The banner also exec produces Latifah's syndicated daytime talk show The Queen Latifah Show, which recently was renewed for a second season on CBS Stations.

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