There I was on Monday evening, minding my own business and wrapping up work for the day when a friend of mine sent me something on IG and asked “Thoughts and Opinions, please”. Attached to the message was the trailer for the Lee Daniels directed Billie Holiday biopic The United States VS. Billie Holiday starring the UNDENIABLY AND IMMENSELY TALENTED Andra Day.
I’ve been a fan of Andra for some time now, her song “Only Love,” off her 2015 album Cheers to the Fall, is one of my favorites. She’s sort of a newcomer to film, but I can see why she was tapped for this one. Everything from her voice, to her aesthetic and even her chosen stage name could be used to help her get into the role of the legendary jazz singer that was Lady Day.
This is the second major biopic about Billie Holiday — the first was 1972’s Lady Sings The Blues starring Black royalty like Diana Ross, Billie Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor. Daniels’ 2021 film has a slew of familiar Black gifted faces such as Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (High Fidelity), Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris), and a small homage/connection to the 1972 film, Evan Ross (Diana’s son, The Hunger Games).
The United States vs. Billie Holiday follows the star through her addiction, jail time, queerness (Natasha Lyonne stars as her lover Tallulah Bankhead), and her fight with the feds years before what would become the Civil Rights Movement. Blackness is at the core of this film. From the trailer, it’s clear that it doesn’t stray from the reality of being a Black woman who was dealt a cruel past living in 1940s America.
The film debuts on February 26th on Hulu. In the meantime, revisit a performance of one of Billie Holiday’s most career-defining songs —that would become an anthem of Black protest — “Strange Fruit.”