Jazz singer Billie Holiday endured lots of tragedy in her short four decades of life. Holiday’s torturous relationship to alcohol and drugs landed her in the crosshairs of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as early as 1939, which resulted in a pivotal trial in 1947 that all but tanked her career. The political undercurrents of her music, including her version of the lynching ballad “Strange Fruit,” also made her vulnerable to authorities at the time. That stormy period of Lady Day’s tragic life is the subject of Lee Daniels’ upcoming biographical drama “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” starring actress and Grammy-nominated singer Andra Day in the title role.
While originally a release set up at Paramount Pictures for February 2021, the studio sold the rights to the film to streamer Hulu in December. “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” has, so far, not had any festival play, but it comes with plenty of star wattage that should make it a buzzy title next month. Trevante Rhodes, Natasha Lyonne, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Garrett Hedlund round out the cast. This is Andra Day’s feature acting debut. The screenplay comes from decorated playwright and novelist Suzan-Lori Parks, who lifts from the book “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” by Johann Hari. Filming took place last fall in 2019 in Montreal.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” is Lee Daniels’ first feature directing effort since “The Butler” in 2013, with his attentions drawn elsewhere as a movie producer (of films including this year’s acclaimed “Concrete Cowboy,” scooped for release by Netflix out of the Toronto International Film Festival) and as co-creator, executive producer, director, and writer of the smash TV series “Empire.” Daniels’ other literary adaptation on the big screen, 2009’s “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,” earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. The film also earned a Best Picture nomination.
Watch the first trailer for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” below. The film arrives on Hulu on February 26.