The United States vs. Billie Holiday

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The United States vs. Billie Holiday
The United States vs Billie Holliday.jpg
Official promotional poster
Directed byLee Daniels
Screenplay bySuzan-Lori Parks
Based onChasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs
by Johann Hari
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyAndrew Dunn
Edited byJay Rabinowitz
Music byKris Bowers
Production
companies
Distributed byHulu
Release date
  • February 26, 2021 (2021-02-26) (United States)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a 2021 American biographical drama film about singer Billie Holiday, based on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. Directed by Lee Daniels, the film stars Andra Day in the titular role, along with Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Leslie Jordan, Miss Lawrence, Adriane Lenox, Natasha Lyonne, Rob Morgan, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Evan Ross, and Tyler James Williams.

Initially set to be released theatrically in the United States by Paramount Pictures, the film was sold to Hulu in December 2020 and digitally released in the United States on February 26, 2021. The United States vs. Billie Holiday received mixed reviews from critics; while Day's performance was praised, the direction and screenplay were criticized as unfocused. For her performance, Day was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama; the film was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song ("Tigress and Tweed") and the soundtrack won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media, for Andra Day, Salaam Remi, and Lynn Fainchtein.

Plot[edit]

In 1957, Billie Holiday meets with a radio journalist, Reginald Lord Devine, for an interview. He asks her what it is like to be a "colored woman" and about the trouble she keeps getting into because of her hit song Strange Fruit. Billie says it is about human rights, something the government often forgets.

The film flashes back to 1947, where Billie's husband Monroe and her manager Joe Glaser try to get Billie to cut Strange Fruit from her set list, saying people high up in the government do not want to hear her sing it. Lester Young, Billie's sax player, supports her in playing it.

FBI agent Harry J. Anslinger tells other agents that Billie is a threat, her song promotes the wrong ideas, and she has not stopped singing it. Unable to arrest her for singing, they decide to go after her on drug charges. After Billie's next show, Agent Jimmy Fletcher, disguised as a soldier, witnesses her doing drugs. The FBI arrest Billie and her lover Joe Guy for drug use and possession. The judge sentences Billie to a year in jail. It is later revealed that Anslinger paid off Guy.

Anslinger tells Fletcher that they need to make sure Billie never sings again. Jimmy questions why Billie is such a problem. Anslinger tells Fletcher to go to the prison to get back in with Billie. Instead, he tells her to not trust anyone and warns her the FBI will continue to try to set her up.

After Billie is released from prison, she does a Carnegie Hall show where an audience member asks her to sing Strange Fruit and she sadly declines. Billie meets John Levy, who tells her that he will pay off the right people to make sure she can keep singing in his clubs. They begin a relationship. Levy proposes to her, then slips drugs into her pocket just in time for the FBI to enter. In court, Fletcher admits that Billie was possibly framed, and she is freed. Anslinger sends Fletcher to follow Billie on her tour.

In 1949, Jimmy comes to see Billie after a successful tour stop and tells her the agency wants her to think he was fired. Suspicious, the whole crew has Fletcher do heroin to show he can be trusted. Over the course of the tour, Fletcher and Billie fall in love. One day, after the bus breaks down, Billie breaks up with Fletcher, telling him he needs to find a nice girl, and that is not her. Jimmy returns to work, where he finds he has been replaced.

Billie marries Louis McKay, later returning to Fletcher. Later, Billie tells Fletcher she has liver failure. In the hospital, Anslinger tells Billie and McKay that if she cooperates, she will never see them again. Billie tells him that his grandkids will be singing Strange Fruit one day.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development on a new Billie Holiday biopic was announced in September 2019, with Lee Daniels directing. Andra Day was set to play the titular role, with Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund and Natasha Lyonne also cast.[1] Evan Ross, Dana Gourrier and Erik LaRay Harvey were also added later that month.[2] Additional casting was announced in October.[3] Daniels was hesitant to cast Day, owing to her limited acting experience, but became convinced following an iPhone clip of her sent to him by her acting coach.[4]

Filming began on October 6, 2019, in Montreal.[5]

Andra Day revealed that she lost almost 40 pounds and started drinking and smoking to portray Billie Holiday in this film.[6]

Soundtrack[edit]

Release[edit]

The film was released on February 26, 2021.[7] In July 2020, Paramount Pictures acquired distribution rights to the film.[8] It was originally scheduled to be released on February 12, 2021,[9][10] but in November 2020, it was moved two weeks to February 26.[11] In December 2020, Hulu acquired distribution rights to the film in the United States.[12]

Reception[edit]

Audience viewership[edit]

Hulu reported the film was the most-watched title over its first three days of release, with Samba TV estimating that 287,000 U.S. households watched the film.[13]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 55% of 167 critic reviews were positive, with an average rating of 5.4/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Although The United States vs. Billie Holiday often falls shy of its subject's transcendence, Andra Day's performance offers brilliant compensation."[14] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 52 out of 100, based on 43 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[15]

David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Day mesmerizes even when Lee Daniels' unwieldy bio-drama careens all over the map with stylistic inconsistency and narrative dysfunction, settling for episodic electricity in the absence of a robust connective thread. It's a mess, albeit an absorbing one, driven by a raw central performance of blistering indignation, both tough and vulnerable."[16] Reviewing for Variety, Owen Gleiberman praised Day's performance and said, "In this sprawling, lacerating, but at times emotionally wayward biopic set during the last decade of Holiday's life, Day gives Billie a voice of pearly splendor that, over time, turns raspy and hard, and we see the same thing happening to Billie inside."[17]

For Deadline Hollywood, Pete Hammond wrote, "You simply cannot say enough about what Day achieves in this role, particularly being a first-time actor. She gets beneath the skin of Holiday, giving a raw and honest portrait of an artist under duress but determined in her belief that she can use that art and talent to make the world a more just place."[18] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film 2 out of 5 stars, detailing, "Day's rendition is heartfelt. But the direction and storytelling are laborious, without the panache and incorrectness of earlier Daniels movies such as Precious (2009) and The Paperboy (2012). A cloud of solemnity and reverence hangs over it, briefly dispelled by the music itself."[19] DiscussingFilm also praised Day in their 3/5 review, saying that her work is the only memorable aspect in an otherwise forgettable, muddled film.[20]

Several jazz critics and musicians have had negative reactions to the film for its rewriting of history. Writing in JazzTimes, Historian and musician Lewis Porter critiqued the ahistorical premise of the film:

In Lee Daniels’ film The United States vs. Billie Holiday, the words “Earle Theater, Philadelphia, May 27, 1947” flash onscreen, and one sees a row of policemen, with Holiday’s manager Joe Glaser standing at the center of them. Billie comes onstage and sings the first words of “Strange Fruit,” solo. Immediately, Glaser orders the police, “Get her off that stage!” and they storm forward.

But wait! Holiday was not at the Earle Theater on that date. She never sang “Strange Fruit” as the first number in a set, and never sang that or anything else a cappella . . . Most significant, never in her entire career was Billie stopped while performing “Strange Fruit.” Yes, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics pursued Holiday for her drug use. But there was no federal objection to the song “Strange Fruit,” nor was there any campaign to suppress it.

If you believed this film—and so far as I can tell, almost everyone did, even the many critics who rightly panned it—you have been the victim of one of the worst instances of rewriting history in the annals of Hollywood. Even the usual spate of articles about “what's true in this based-on-fact movie” missed the boat. The Los Angeles Times stated that “[a]lthough some details of the relationships have been fictionalized ..., the ... conspiracies are well documented.” Documented where exactly? In the movie, and nowhere else.[21]

In their Jazz United podcast on WBGO, critic Nate Chinen and musician and radio host Greg Bryant also objected the film's false premises but also its let down to the jazz community for its inauthenticity and "exploitative nature," saying, for example "its the attempt to co-opt the name to sell films, what we have again what we have is the image of jazz, of black American music, whichever you call it, being used to promoted certain stereotypes not only about the music, but the players, the people, who gave their lives to embody it."[22]

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
AARP's Movies for Grownups Awards March 28, 2021 Best Movie for Grownups The United States vs. Billie Holiday Won [23]
Best Director Lee Daniels Nominated
Best Time Capsule The United States vs. Billie Holiday Nominated
Academy Awards April 25, 2021 Best Actress Andra Day Nominated [24]
African-American Film Critics Association Awards April 7, 2021 Best Picture The United States vs. Billie Holiday Nominated [25]
Best Actress Andra Day Won
BET Awards June 27, 2021 Best Movie The United States vs. Billie Holiday Nominated [26]
Best Actress Andra Day Won
Black Reel Awards April 11, 2021 Outstanding Actress Nominated [27]
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female Won
Outstanding Costume Design Paolo Nieddu Nominated
Outstanding Original Song "Tigress & Tweed" – Andra Day & Raphael Saadiq Nominated
Critics’ Choice Movie Awards March 7, 2021 Best Actress Andra Day Nominated [28]
Best Hair and Makeup The United States vs. Billie Holiday Nominated
Best Song "Tigress & Tweed" – Andra Day & Raphael Saadiq Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards February 10, 2021 Best Actress Andra Day 5th Place [29]
Golden Globe Awards February 28, 2021 Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Won [30]
Best Original Song "Tigress & Tweed" – Andra Day & Raphael Saadiq Nominated
Grammy Awards April 3, 2022 Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media The United States vs. Billie Holiday Won [31]
Hollywood Music in Media Awards January 27, 2021 Best Original Song in a Feature Film "Tigress & Tweed" – Andra Day & Raphael Saadiq Nominated [32]
Best Music Supervision – Film Lynn Fainchtein Nominated
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards April 3, 2021 Best Special Make-Up Effects in a Feature-Length Motion Picture Adrien Morot Nominated [33]
NAACP Image Awards February 26, 2022 Outstanding Motion Picture The United States vs. Billie Holiday Nominated [34]
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Andra Day Nominated
Outstanding Soundtrack/Compilation Album The United States vs. Billie Holiday Soundtrack (Salaam Remi, Andra Day, Raphael Saadiq, Warren Felder) Nominated
Palm Springs International Film Festival February 11, 2021 Breakthrough Performance Award Andra Day Won [35]
Women Film Critics Circle Awards March 7, 2021 Best Woman Storyteller Suzan-Lori Parks Nominated [36]
Best Actress Andra Day Nominated
Karen Morley Award The United States vs. Billie Holiday Won

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 17, 2019). "Lee Daniels Sets Cast For 'The United States Vs. Billie Holiday' With Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund & Natasha Lyonne". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on September 22, 2019. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  2. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (September 25, 2019). "Evan Ross, Dana Gourrier, Erik Laray Harvey Join Lee Daniels' 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday'". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on September 25, 2019. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  3. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (October 2, 2019). "'The United States vs. Billie Holiday' Adds 'American Vandal' & 'Snowfall' Actor Melvin Gregg & Miss Lawrence". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on October 4, 2019. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  4. ^ Keegan, Rebecca (January 11, 2021). "In 'The United States vs Billie Holiday,' Lee Daniels Tackles the Untold Story of the Jazz Singer's Civil Rights Activism". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on February 20, 2021. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  5. ^ Kennedy, John R. (September 16, 2019). "Andra Day In Montreal To Star In Billie Holiday Biopic". iHeartRadio. Archived from the original on October 2, 2019. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  6. ^ "Andra Day Lost 39 Pounds, Started Smoking & Drinking for Portrayal of Billie Holiday". eurweb.com. Retrieved 12 February 2022.
  7. ^ Lattanzio, Ryan (January 11, 2021). "'United States vs. Billie Holiday' Trailer: Andra Day Makes Her Movie Star Debut in Lee Daniels' Biopic". IndieWire. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  8. ^ "Paramount Prevails In Auction For Lee Daniels-Directed 'The United States Vs. Billie Holiday:' Virtual Cannes". 2 July 2020. Archived from the original on 2020-07-02. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  9. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 28, 2020). "'Scream' Relaunch Eyes 2022 Release, 'Snake Eyes' Rolls To 2021 & More – Paramount Release Date Changes". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on August 29, 2020. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  10. ^ Anderton, Ethan (August 29, 2020). "Paramount Sets Release Dates for 'Snake Eyes', New 'Scream' and 'Paranormal Activity' Movies & More". /Film. Archived from the original on September 4, 2020. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  11. ^ "Paramount Pictures Takes Michael B. Jordan Pic 'Without Remorse,' 'Micronauts' Off 2021 Release Calendar". 14 November 2020. Archived from the original on 2020-11-14. Retrieved 2020-11-15.
  12. ^ Lang, Brent (December 24, 2020). "Hulu Buys Lee Daniels' 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday'". Variety. Archived from the original on December 24, 2020. Retrieved December 25, 2020.
  13. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 2, 2021). "Hulu's 'The United States Vs. Billie Holiday' Tops Streamer's Weekend Movies Amid Star Andra Day's Golden Globes Win". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  14. ^ "The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on February 15, 2021. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  15. ^ "The United States vs. Billie Holiday Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on February 21, 2021. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  16. ^ Rooney, David (February 19, 2021). "'The United States vs Billie Holiday': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on February 19, 2021. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  17. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (February 19, 2021). "'The United States vs. Billie Holiday' Review: Scattered but Scorching, and a Must-See for Andra Day's Performance". Variety. Archived from the original on February 19, 2021. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  18. ^ Hammond, Pete (February 19, 2021). "'The United States Vs. Billie Holiday' Review: Andra Day Soars In Lee Daniels' Compelling True Story Of Feds Targeting Of Great Singer". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on February 20, 2021. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  19. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (February 19, 2021). "The United States vs Billie Holiday review – Lee Daniels' misguided biopic". The Guardian. Archived from the original on February 19, 2021. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  20. ^ Wade, A. Felicia (26 February 2021). "'The United States vs. Billie Holiday' Review – Andra Day Shines in a Muddled Mess". DiscussingFilm. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  21. ^ Porter, Lewis. "The United States vs. Billie Holiday vs. the Truth". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2021-07-27.
  22. ^ "Miss Holiday to You: Jazz United Weighs In on 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday' and 'Billie'". WBGO. Retrieved 2021-07-27.
  23. ^ Haring, Bruce (February 8, 2021). "AARP The Magazine Sets Movies For Grownups Nominees, Adds TV Categories". Deadline. Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  24. ^ "The full list of 2021 Oscar nominations". Guardian. 15 March 2021. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  25. ^ "AAFCA AWARDS". African-American Film Critics Association. April 7, 2021.
  26. ^ "BET Awards Unveil 2021 Nominees List, Led By Megan Thee Stallion And DaBaby". Deadline. 2021-05-27. Retrieved 2021-05-27.
  27. ^ Amanda N'Duka (2021-02-18). "'One Night in Miami', 'Judas and the Black Messiah' Lead Nominations For 21st Annual Black Reel Awards". Deadline. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  28. ^ Davis, Clayton (February 8, 2021). "Critics Choice Awards: 'Mank' Leads With 12 Nominations, Netflix Makes History With Four Best Picture Nominees". Variety. Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  29. ^ "Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards 2020 Winners". Archived from the original on February 10, 2021. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  30. ^ Oganesyan, Natalie; Moreau, Jordan (February 3, 2021). "Golden Globes 2021: The Complete Nominations List". Variety. Archived from the original on February 3, 2021. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  31. ^ "2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show: Complete Nominations List". Grammy Awards. November 23, 2021. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  32. ^ Grein, Paul (January 27, 2021). "Diane Warren & James Newton Howard Among Top Winners at 2021 Hollywood Music in Media Awards". Billboard. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  33. ^ Giardina, Carolyn (2021-02-18). "'Bill & Ted Face the Music' Leads Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2021-02-25.
  34. ^ Spivey, Kemberlie (2022-01-19). "2022 NAACP Image Awards Nominations: The Full List". Forbes. Retrieved 2022-01-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  35. ^ "Film Awards 2021 – Palm Springs International Film Festival". Palm Springs International Film Society. February 2021.
  36. ^ "Women Film Critics Circle Awards announced". Caution Spoilers. March 10, 2021.

External links[edit]