There was no way I was going to miss watching the premiere of Bessie on HBO on May 16, 2015. It was amazing, just as early reviews had mentioned. It was full of dynamic and raw performances as well as important messages to think about. There were a number of jewels that Dee Rees and Bessie dropped in the movie that I wanted to briefly mention.
Don't Allow Bad Energy Around You
As a child, Bessie had to contend with a mean-hearted sister named Viola who abused her and her siblings. When she came to fame, Viola did everything in her power to try to break her down with words ("you think you're all that, don't you"). When that didn't work, because Bessie's self-esteem was too high at that point, she altered her plan to break Bessie down. She decided to sliver her way back into Bessie's life with a show of kindness, giving her a picture of the family and looking pitiful.
Predictably, as soon as Viola got her chance to move into "the big house" with Bessie, she started back on her mission to destroy. She started off by sowing seeds of contempt between Bessie and her husband Jack Gees (who was weak and bad energy himself, but to a lesser degree). She fed Bessie her "medicine" (gin) instead of encouraging her to get better. Then, when Jack Gees left Bessie after beating her up, Viola was the one who let him in. She sat down and sipped tea as her plan came to its full fruition, and her sister was finally back "down in her place." Remember this lesson the next time you think about letting someone back into your life from the past.
Remember Those Who Are There for You in Hard Times
So often when people get a certain level of fame and wealth they forget about the people who were there for them in the hard times -- back when they didn't have much. Bessie propelled herself off of the back of Ma Rainey, and then got lost in the fame she acquired. But who was there for her when she really needed someone later in life? Ma Rainey was there for her from the beginning and the only one who could pull her out of depression.
Who Cares What They Think?
Ma Rainey taught Bessie how to express herself and not care what others thought. This built up Bessie's self confidence and made her an irresistible force to be reckoned with. I believe that the reason why so many women today have low self-confidence and self-esteem is that we care way too much about what others "might" think of us. Many of us are living in isolation and not in our full power thanks to fear of what others might think if we stepped outside of the box.
I think the most important lesson that I got from the movie Bessie was the importance of empowering yourself, economically and otherwise. Back in those days, black people were treated like trash by both white and black outfits, but there were still black business people who had economic empowerment. They knew their worth and demanded it in business dealings. I read somewhere that Ma Rainey owned her own theater houses, so instead of waiting for someone else to pay her what she was owed, she decided to pay herself.
Stories like this are why I don't sympathize much with people who say they hate their jobs or complain about what they're paid in 2015. If you're not happy with your economic situation, you're not going to get very far by complaining to "the boss." You have to make your own way in this world. If you don't want to do that, then you will have to continue to be at the mercy of bosses.
I fell in love with Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey thanks to this movie. I am so thankful to HBO for being willing to tell the stories of black woman heros in such a classy and professional way. These stories are authentic because black women like Dee Rees are given the reigns.
I believe that historical films like this are crucial in getting the black people of today to regain cultural pride and remember our majestic roots.