“Strange Fruit” is one of singer Billie Holiday’s most famous songs. Less known is how the “first great protest” anthem also made her a target of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. That story will be told in The United States vs Billie Holiday, the new film from Lee Daniels (Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) starring Andra Day as Holiday.
“When you think of Civil Rights leaders, you think of men. When you think of Billie Holiday, you think of this brilliant tortured jazz singer that happened to have been a drug addict. I didn’t know that she kicked off the Civil Rights movement,” Daniels said. “Before there was a Civil Rights movement, there was Billie Holiday and ‘Strange Fruit.’ The government saw that song as a threat and she was a target. That’s history and they keep it from us.”
Here’s the official plot synopsis:
The legendary Billie Holiday, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, spent much of her career being adored by fans across the globe. Beginning in the 1940’s in New York City, the federal government targeted Holiday in a growing effort to escalate and racialize the war on drugs, ultimately aiming to stop her from singing her controversial and heart-wrenching ballad, “Strange Fruit.” Led by Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels and introducing Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday unapologetically presents the icon’s complicated, irrepressible life. Screenplay writer Suzan-Lori Parks, the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, pens this intimate tale of a fierce trailblazer whose defiance through music helped usher in the civil rights movement.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which also stars Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Natasha Lyonne, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, premieres on Hulu on February 26.