All of Billie Holiday

All of Billie Holiday

On Feb. 26, Hulu premiered “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” a film that tells the story of the life of famous jazz singer, Billie Holiday. Andra Day plays the role of Holiday and even sings the majority of Holiday’s most popular songs in the film, like “All of Me” and “Strange Fruit.”  You may have heard of Day from her hit pop single, “Rise Up.” This is her debut acting role and she completely embodied everything that Holiday was: from the way that she walks to her mannerisms and her raspy, sultry jazz voice. The film tells about the powerful yet tragic life of  Holiday, focusing on how the United States went after her for speaking up for the equal treatment of Black people in America. 

Holiday was born in Philadelphia on April 7, 1915 as Eleanora Fagan. In the film, we learn of Holiday’s tumultuous coming of age. She grew up in an environment filled with drugs, drinking, and prostitution. Holiday is most known for her song “Strange Fruit,” which was originally a poem named “Bitter Fruit” by Abel Meeropol. Meeropol was inspired to write the poem “Bitter Fruit” after seeing a photograph of a lynching in 1930 in Indiana, and Holiday became inspired. Lynching can be identified in the song’s lyrics, like: “Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze.” This song would quickly become one of Holiday’s most popular and requested from listeners. The FBI and the American government went so far as prohibiting Holiday from clubs so that she would not sing the song and “rile up” the segregated crowd. 

A trigger warning for the film: It speaks at great length about the topic of lynchings and opens with a photo of a lynch mob. In the film, we learn of the importance of “Strange Fruit” to Holiday and how she fought to sing the song at nightclubs, but the FBI continued to stop her from doing so. Holiday also struggled with drug and alcohol abuse throughout her life. According to the film, the FBI tried to use that against her and punish her so that she would not be able to perform the song publicly. 

As the film progresses, we see Holiday continue to fight to be able to sing the song live, even though she is sent to jail for drug possession after being harassed and ridiculed by the press. Overall, the film tells the important story of Holiday, the lynchings of Black people, and how it is technically still legal in America today. Day does a fantastic job in the role of Holiday and captures her mannerisms and voice in a beautiful way. 

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” is now streaming on Hulu.

Featured Image courtesy of Always Ultra via Flickr Creative Commons