Updated: Jul 31
As we close out Black History Month, the Hulu screenplay "The United States vs. Billie Holiday", directed by Lee Daniels and Executive Produced by Salaam Remi is a must see film documented the racial hardships and personal trials of Ms. Billie Holiday.
In a time where racial barriers transcended into the lives of artists and musicians, upon entering a Manhattan hotel to perform, Billie Holiday was stopped at the main elevators and told that she had to take the service elevators. It was a disheartening blow to her, but she still stood under the watchful eyes of fans and the Feds.
You see, most of the controversy surrounding Billie Holiday's musical career was strongly motivated by her song 'Strange Fruit'. A song that the United States government agency Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), banned her from singing. The song had lyrics that gave you vivid imagery about "black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." Because of this performance, Billie Holiday would later be arrested and incarcerated for a year for opioid charges.
Billie Holiday was incarcerated for the correlation that her accuser and head of the FBN, Henry Anslinger says was due to drug use and jazz music. "It sounded like the jungles in the dead of night," in wrote in a memo. In the 1920's Anslinger was known as an extreme racist, and couldn't have a song so controversial and against white supremacy. This gave Anslinger an excuse to go after Holiday.
"It reminds them that they're killing us."
The war on drugs became a war on Billie Holiday. In their attempts to silence her, they stripped her of her cabaret card so she could not lawfully perform to make money, FBI agents followed her, set her up and even her love interests, including one of her husband's who would set her up. It was easy with Billie Holiday's documented sexual abuse and rape as a child and drug addiction.
"I needed heroin to live."
Billie Holiday never gave up her love for music and standing up for what she believed in, continuing to have a voice for her song, singing Strange Fruit while on tour against the Ku Klux Klan's orders. News headlines read, Holiday Defies Klan, sings Strange Fruit. It is alleged that while she lay in her hospital bed dying from cirrhosis of the liver, that Federal Agents found more opioids in her possession, putting handcuffs around her ankles in her hospital bed. Billie Holiday passed away at the age of 44.
Having had a very sad life. She was born in 1915, not knowing who her father was and living a childhood where her mother reportedly was a prostitute. By the age of fourteen, Billie herself was a prostitute, and as early as 1930 she and her mom were arrested in a raid ( The Great Entertainers Archives). Andra Day did an awesome job bringing Billie Holiday to the world, showing us her trials, downfalls, as well as her strong-will, tenacity, perseverance and most of all how she paved a way for all black women to show up without fear in the face of opposition, with a voice and a mission. She did a phenomenal job funneling the late, Ms. Holiday.
A side note to this movie - the soundtrack is beautiful! We send a shout out to Free Marie (Free formerly of 106&Park for producing 11 songs on The United States vs. Billie Holiday movie.
Be sure to check out the Lee Daniels directed film on Hulu!