Since 2018, Lee Daniels has been working on a film about Billie Holiday and next year we will finally get to see the finished product next year. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film titled The United States vs. Billie Holiday, will be released February 21, 2021.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday will focus on Holiday becoming a target for federal agents who wanted to keep her from performing her song “Strange Fruit,” which spoke about the lynchings of African Americans. On the controversial 1939 song Holiday sang:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
“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,” Daniels said about the upcoming film according to Variety. “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. We are proud to partner with Sierra/Affinity to bring this story to the global stage.”
The last major film to focus on Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, was Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross and Billie Dee Williams. It earned Ross five Academy Award nominations.
The script is being written by Suzan-Lori Parks, the first Black woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog. Daniels is producing, directing and co-writing the film. According to W Magazine, Andra Day will play Holiday. She also played the jazz icon in Lanie Robertson’s play Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Other cast members include Tyler James Williams, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Natasha Lyonne, Blake DeLong, Erik LaRay Harvey, Miss Lawrence, Adriane Lenox and more. The biopic was inspired by a book by author Johann Hari titled Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
She was hospitalized in May of 1959 for liver disease and arrested upon arriving to the hospital for heroin possession by the same federal agents who had been targeting her for two decades, according to Progressive. They even stopped the hospital from administering her methadone treatment to help her with her heroin addiction. Holiday died in July 1959 in Metropolitan Hospital in New York City of congestive heart failure.