Stream Lee Daniels’ film The United States vs. Billie Holiday on Hulu February 26, 2021

Director Lee Daniels recalled a dream he’d had before the last day of shooting. Billie Holiday came to him with his head down. He said, “hey I’m doing a movie on you.” She looked up and asked, “Are you gonna do me right?”

Directing this film was a full circle moment for Mr. Daniels. Lady Sings the Blues, the 1970s biopic starring Diana Ross, initiated his love for film. He remembers the feeling of seeing black love on his television screen, the historic views of Harlem and the smell of “fried chicken coming off the screen.” Of course, he was going to do her right.

I had the honor of attending the virtual trailer debut of ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ featuring Lee Daniels, Andra Day (Billie Holiday), Trevante Rhodes (Jimmy Fletcher), and host Nischelle Turner. The event started with a brief but intimate conversation between Daniels and Turner. They both were modestly dressed in black attire – at least from the waist up. Turner came through with a natural beat to match her natural glow. Daniels rocked his square frames and clear skin. Outside of their friendly connection, the wellness checks, and the trailer itself, the journalist shoutout was my favorite part. The pair was so excited to have “a whole bunch of black journalists” view the trailer first. Though we weren’t called by name, I felt seen and special. I smiled.

I carried that smile through the introduction of the trailer. “Rise Up” singer, Andra Day was breathtakingly beautiful, “downright flashy.” Whether dawned in a signature red lipstick or a natural face, the resemblance to the legendary Billie Holiday was striking. If I didn’t know any better I’d think the voice she portrayed belonged to her. Day described Billie’s voice as a scroll with its own story. A scroll full of joy, pain, addiction and other life experiences. She took it on as its own character and mastered it. Rhodes, famous for his role in Academy Award winning film Moonlight, adds to the drama with his mysterious eyes and bold statements like, “She’s made something of herself and you can’t take it because she’s strong, beautiful and black.” He smiled. There’s something about him that makes you want to read his book. He acts from the inside, according to Daniels. Dressed in a Texas Track & Field tee, its obvious he’s humble but he had zero probably telling Daniels the script needed some work before taking on the role.

Daniels listened and made revisions, creating what he describes as a “moment in time.” It’s not a biopic. The film’s timeframe is specific and highlights the domino effect that transpired after the release of iconic ballad ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939. Like the song, it’s strong. It’s strangely beautiful. It’s black. And in times like these, it’s necessary.



Featured Image obtained from IMDB