Want more recommendations for your family?
Sign up for our weekly newsletter for entertainment inspiration
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Shows that, despite a traumatic childhood, an early volatile lifestyle, and being a victim of racism, it's possible to achieve success and happiness. Recognizes the importance of loyalty, unconditional love, and unyielding support. Presents a vivid picture of both overt and concealed racism in early 20th-century America.
Positive Role Models
The leading character -- a strong, talented, needy woman -- finds the inner strength to match her outward toughness. She loves intensely and is resilient and smart as she learns to channel her gifts into positive action. She overcomes multiple setbacks, not the least of which is her often self-destructive behavior. African-Americans are represented as part of a diverse culture, with both heroes and villains, who must rise above the prevailing racist worldview.
Violence & Scariness
Numerous fistfights and scuffles, some prompted by women fending off male predators. A knife attack. Domestic rage and violence. Racist acts: Hooded white men threaten to set fire to a large tent filled with African-Americans; white men with rifles and shotguns shoot wildly at a passing train. Multiple flashbacks reveal a hysterical little girl who is frightened and furious at an unseen, punishing adult.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sensuality, sexuality, and infidelity are important to the story. Leading character is bisexual. Lesbian and heterosexual sex scenes include: kissing, embracing, foreplay, and, in one instance, exuberant intercourse. Partial nudity, including bare breasts.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Frequent obscenities, swearing, and name-calling: "f--k," "hell," "s--t," "c--k," "damn," "ass," "bitch."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Pervasive drinking and drunkenness. Heroine becomes dependent on alcohol. Smoking throughout, including instances of what appears to be marijuana.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Bessie, with its tour-de-force performance by Queen Latifah, is for mature audiences only. In telling the story of Bessie Smith, a dazzlingly talented blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s, the filmmakers successfully provide an in-depth portrait of the emotional volatility and the music of an African-American icon. Bessie's story is sometimes violent -- Bessie was never one to back away from a physical fight that might victimize her. It's often sexual, portraying both lesbian and heterosexual intimacy with partial nudity. And the film addresses Bessie's alcohol abuse and the racial politics of the era. Language is adult, with many instances and forms of "f--k," "s--t," and "c--k," as well "bitch," "ass," "hell," and "damn," among others. This award-winning musical drama was originally an HBO special event. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Queen Latifah's spellbinding performance as Bessie Smith and sensational music more than compensate for the by-now conventional story of a musical artist's rise and fall. It's challenging to portray a complicated artist's life in a two-hour movie, but writer-director Dee Rees and her team have managed to avoid the pitfalls of such an effort by focusing on the inner life of Ms. Smith. They've chosen powerful moments -- musical performances, key scenes with those Bessie loves and hates, and pivotal racial incidents -- to bring their vision of Bessie Smith to life. Surrounded by solid actors -- Mo'Nique and Michael Kenneth Williams are standouts -- and with scene after scene of demanding self-revelation, Queen Latifah finds every nuance and gives a vibrant, once-in-a-lifetime performance. It's mature material. Sex with partial nudity, alcohol, violence, and strong language make it suited for adults and mature teens only.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.