Lee Daniels’ ‘The United States Vs. Billie Holiday’ Film To Star Andra Day

No release date has yet been set, but Day will play Holiday, while Natasha Lyonne will portray Tallulah Bankhead.

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Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. June 1946 web optimised 1000
Photo: William Gottlieb/Library Of Congress

A biopic is in the works entitled The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, focusing on a particular chapter in the life of one of the greatest of all jazz singers.

No release date has yet been set, but singer Andra Day is on board to play Holiday, while Natasha Lyonne will portray Tallulah Bankhead and Trevante Rhodes will appear as agent Jimmy Fletcher. The website entry for the project also lists roles for actors Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and others.

“An unsung Civil Rights warrior”

The film’s director is Lee Daniels, who previously oversaw such movies as Precious, The Paperboy and The Butler and created the series Empire. He told Variety about the prescience of the film’s subject matter. “With the world’s eyes forced to look at the centuries-old oppression of black people, I hope The United States Vs. Billie Holiday will add to this important conversation by shining a light on systemic racism and social injustice,” he said. “I also feel that in this time of great reckoning it is essential we celebrate the life and artistry of an unsung Civil Rights warrior, Billie Holiday.”

The film is based on English writer-journalist Johann Hari’s 2015 book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. The screenplay, by Pulitzer Prize-winning US playwright, screenwriter, musician and novelist Suzan-Lori Parks, focuses on how Holiday was targeted for years by agents of the Federal Department of Narcotics, lead by Harry Anslinger.

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Hari wrote that the latter’s appetite to pursue the jazz great was fuelled by her outspoken position on racial injustice. The department first investigated Holiday after she sang ‘Strange Fruit,’ the composition by writer-poet Abel Meeropoll that addressed the lynching of black Americans.

Listen to the best of Billie Holiday on Apple Music and Spotify.

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