“When I thought of Billie Holiday I just thought of her as a jazz singer, maybe a troubled artist, you hear about drugs, a little bit of trouble with the law,” says Lee Daniels, director of the next biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday. With all that Holiday has accomplished in his rich career, his work in the civil rights movement of the 1930s and 1940s is rarely highlighted, which is why Daniels was inspired to tackle this project.
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks, the photo is set in 1940s New York City at a time when the federal government targeted Holiday for his drug use, with the ultimate goal of preventing him from singing his controversial ballad ” Strange Fruit ”.
“Through this story, we learn that she sang ‘Strange Fruit’, which was about lynching black people, and that the government didn’t want her to sing ‘Strange Fruit’. They didn’t want the story told, ”Daniels said during the Hulu film panel at the Deadline’s Contenders Film awards season event.
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Lee also highlights the ongoing discussions about the lynching and the government’s inability to pass legislation making the heinous act a federal hate crime. “I had to tell the story,” he says of the film, which hits Hulu Feb.26.
Singer Andra Day lights up the screen as the iconic Holiday in her first major acting role. “I was already a huge Billie Holiday fan so for me it was a joy,” she says on the panel alongside Lee and costume designer Paolo Neiddu. She also shared her process of getting into character, which required “a lot of research.” In fact, the actress was so committed to the role that she even cut her hair and started smoking. “It was all worth it,” she says.
As the film takes place at the turn of the 20th century, Daniels points out that its themes of racial injustice, police brutality and censorship are relevant today. “This film is more of a call to arms,” he says. “I am not a politician. I am not an activist. I am a filmmaker. I am a storyteller. I can only do my duty by telling stories that are in the ether.
He adds, “I mean, my mind told me to make this movie, but I had no idea how the time is right, and how tomorrow is the time for this, and how next year will be. time for and how, when my children get old, that will be the time.
Check back for the panel video.