How is the Ending of “Bessie” an Ominous Foreshadowing of Bessie Smith’s Actual Fate?


The Bessie (2015) biopic tactfully closes before telling the story of Smith’s final years, but if you’re aware of how she ultimately passed away, the beautiful and touching closing sequence holds a strong foreshadowing of her fate.

In the final scene, we see Smith (Queen Latifah) and her lover (and former bootlegger) Richard Morgan (Mike Epps) sitting against the back of a parked truck on the side of the road. The sun is out, a breeze is blowing, Morgan is enjoying a Coca-Cola, and the two seem content and peaceful as they discuss what’s next.

“I do want to know,” she says.
“Know what?” Morgan asks.
“What’s over that next hill, around the next corner.”
“Well… you can’t go back. But you can stop.”
“I can’t stop.”
“Then let’s go.”

In reality, the combination of a similar model car, a highway, and Richard Morgan were what caused Bessie’s death.

In September 1937, Smith was involved in a car accident on Route 61. Richard Morgan was driving. He misjudged the car in front of him and, in an attempt to swerve around it, swiped the passenger side of the car against the other motorist’s vehicle. Cars of that time were flimsy, and Smith took the brunt of the impact as the vehicle’s side collapsed in and the roof was sheared off. Smith’s right arm was almost entirely severed, but her death was attributed to crush injuries upon the entire right side of her body. She was in shock at the accident site and was taken to a hospital where her arm was amputated, but ultimately she passed away before ever regaining consciousness. Morgan survived the crash with no injuries.