The movie shows Bessie Smith performing before a segregated audience -- whites sit in the orchestra, blacks in the balcony.
Strassmann asked, "What was it like to walk out on stage and come face-to-face with that?"
"Whenever I play a scene where there's racial components like that, where there's segregation, divisiveness, it's always difficult," she replied. "Because this is not just a role. People have actually lived this. And even though it's a musical, this really happened."
Take the "paper bag test" -- this was an era that wanted black performers, just not too black. They had to be lighter than a brown paper bag.
"Every racist scene is hard to do, 'cause they're not just scenes; they're real life," she said.
But Bessie Smith's real demon may well have been loneliness. In the movie, she's seen quite literally baring her soul, confronting herself in the mirror.
"She's got the outfits, the shoes. People adore her," said Latifah. "But she comes home to the people she wants to come home to and there's no one there, strip it all down, you know? Take it all away. And it's still Bessie and Bessie."
"Two of you would have been friends?"
"Oh, we woulda, yeah. I've ran into a few Bessies through the years. And I think my mom and everybody in my life, uh-huh!
"I'm pretty sure I would have connected with Bessie and people would have been sitting me down every night for a lecture on why we shouldn't have done that - it would have been that kind of thing."
To watch a trailer for the film "Bessie," click on the video player below.
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