Just about every filmmaker hopes their movie will stand up to the test of time. Even when creating something that covers current events, it’s often done in a way that will make the story feel timeless for years to come. For Lee Daniels, his latest film is timely due to its subject matter hitting home with American history repeating itself. Daniels shared why Hulu’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday will still be timely in 40 years.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a biographical drama telling the story of Billie Holiday, a Black jazz singer who struggled with addiction and became the target of a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The bureau used Holiday’s addiction to stop her from singing “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching. With the film being released a year after the Emmet Till Antilynching Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, director Lee Daniels shared with CinemaBlend the following:
I didn’t know [the film would be released one year after the Emmet Till Antilynching Act passed the House] when we started to film. I did not know that, and that’s not in Suzan-Lori Parks’s script. I found that out as we were shooting the film. So I can’t believe it. You can’t make it up. You cannot make this up. And then on top of it all, that noose that was in the capital, you can’t - people say this movie is timely right now. Yes, it’s timely now, it was timely 20 years ago, but I think that this country is so messed up and we’re in such a dark place, we’re just looking the darkness that we’re in directly in the eye. It’s gonna be timely 20 years from now, it’s gonna be timely 40 years from now. It’s going to take our grandkids, if we’re doing the work, to get better as a nation.
It seems sad to think a story as tragic as The United States vs. Billie Holiday would still be timely in 40 years, but Lee Daniels makes a strong point about doing the work. Billie Holiday was very passionate about her beliefs, as seen in the film, and worked to make sure she was not silenced. She was not trying to break the rules or be difficult, but truly stand up for what she believed in and sing a song she felt had an important message for people to hear. Check out the clip below from the film:
Singer/songwriter and now Golden Globe winner Andra Day took on the part of Billie Holiday as her first lead acting role, and Lee Daniels could not have found someone better. Day captures the voice, mannerisms, and essence of Holiday like an expert. She was clearly dedicated to the role and doing Holiday’s life justice. The United States vs. Billie Holiday is now streaming on Hulu.