The United States vs. Billie Holiday Review – Captivating, Riveting, Tragic

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The United States vs. Billie Holiday, a Hulu original film, presents the story of the FBI campaign mounted against her to stop her from bringing attention to the continued murders and lynching of the southern Negros.

The film begins with Billie Holiday, played by Andra Day, sitting down with Reginald Lord Devine, played by Leslie Jordan, for an interview. At this time, we understand the interview is billed as a comeback with Devine, a flamboyant character with skeletons of his own, and Holiday, showing signs of hard living.

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The interview digresses into the beginning of Holiday's rise. The Social Club, in Manhattan, in flashback we see Billie, stunning, silky smooth cocoa skin, beautiful stepping to the microphone stand she silences the crowd with her song.

After the show, a solider Jimmy, played by Trevante Rhodes, attempts to visit her backstage. He is dismissed. Soon he returns as a member of the media hoping for an interview. Holiday plays smitten using the celebrity tease to pull him closer.

We find understand that Billie, like many artists, has a heroin addiction. At this time, Holiday was headlining. A single song, "Strange Fruit," which shocked with its authentic lyrical depiction of lynching's, made her a target of the FBI.

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After repeatedly begin told she cannot sing Strang Fruit, she stepped on stage and lining the back of the club were dozens of uniformed police, along with FBI Agent Harry Anslinger, played by Garret Hedlund. In a moment of rage and defiance she begins to sing, "Strange Fruit," immediately Anslinger give the order and the police move to arrest her.

She escapes with Lester Young, played by Tyler James Williams and the two hide out in his apartment. Between the highs and lows of shooting heroin she wants a food run and when she opens the door the FBI, with Agent Jimmy Fletcher, the magazine interviewer, who used the ruse, to get close to her to confirm her drug use, busting her for heroin usage.

She is sentenced to a year in prison. Once released her talent is her only source of income and as she remains a target of the FBI, they begin a check-mate game, as the bureau counter's each of her moves with a brick wall.

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As the film progresses, the audience understands that although she was triumphant, she never triumphed over the tragedy she suffered in her life. It haunted her throughout her career and manifest in her relationship choices, her addiction to heroin, alcohol, and physical abuse.

For a moment she experienced genuine love, with Federal Agent Fletcher, and the innocence of experiencing love, from silliness to soul connections, were beyond her ability to comprehend. She wasn't able to equate love without abuse.

In back of her mind, she knew it would eventually and probably sooner than later fall apart and she would be left to pick up the pieces of her shattered heart. It was easier to control the lovers by choosing acceptable users, undesirables in a use-use relationship, than fall into the unknown.

Beautiful and broken, burdened with childhood abuse, life as a negro in the 1930s, which translated to a community to be bought and sold, without rights, free allegedly but left abandoned by the government who approved freedom, and yet, ensured slavery through poverty, illiteracy, and violence. The human spirit can only absorb so much shock. Ms. Holiday absorbed enough by age ten.

Her ability to galvanize the now freed African American race and more importantly her celebrity status and the lyrics to Strange Fruit, which she sings defiantly in South Carolina, brought unnecessary attention on the management of the now freed slave. Which made her a permanent target of the FBI.

With white and influential northerner's aware of the frequency of lynching, which were committed at will and random, without cause and considered justified under the law, killing her, or silencing her, destroying her reputation, was necessary to maintain the maintenance of the freed, yet enslaved negro.

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The ensemble cast delivers riveting performances throughout. The film doesn't sugar coat the facts of this season in Ms. Holiday's life nor does it water down the continued abuse she chased.

Andra Day embodies the character and becomes this broken, talented, beautiful, soulful, addicted and abusive rendition of Billie Holiday. It is a captivating performance.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday begins streaming exclusively on Hulu February 26, 2020. See it!


Country: USA.

Language: English.

Runtime: 130minutes.

Director:  Lee Daniels.

Screenplay: Suzan-Lori Parks. 

Cast: Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Leslie Jordan, Miss Lawrence, Adriane Lenox, Natasha Lyonne, Rob Morgan, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Evan Ross, Tyler James Williams, Tone Bell, Blake DeLong, Dana Gourrier, Melvin Gregg, Erik LaRay Harvey, Ray Shell.

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