“The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” a bio-pic that recently premiered on Hulu, is led by a powerful performance by actress Andra Day. She delivers on an intense role and storyline that only she could deliver so powerfully to viewers.
Many may find the story too much to handle, past its rated R status. Holiday’s drama-filled story is the reason that this movie on her life became so R rated.
Although Holiday had a multitude of songs and albums during her time, this film focuses on one powerful piece: “Strange Fruit.”
The movie focuses on different traumas experienced by Holiday such as sexual abuse, childhood neglect, drug abuse/withdrawal, domestic abuse, racism, betrayal and government persecution. All traumas considered; this is a lot for the audience to take in, yet it’s hard to take your attention away from her story.
Before reviewing the story, I find it necessary to address Day’s powerful performance. It included the magic that she brought to the stage both in the movie scenes and to the audience watching the movie. As she portrays the traumas of Holiday, it is hard not to feel the pain that she [Ms. Holiday] does.
The song “Strange Fruit” is the ‘troublemaker’ of Holiday’s life story as described by the interviewer.
“You keep getting in trouble for it, but you are determined to keep singing it” Troublemaker!” Reginald Lord Devine, the interviewer in the movie, tells Holiday.
Although it seems as if Devine is calling her the troublemaker, it is obvious that the song is the troublemaker that he is referring to. It is the reason that the United States fights Holiday to her literal dying breath. It isn’t because she abused drugs, but it was because “Strange Fruit” reminded the government that they were sanctioning the lynching of Black people. In reality, there were plenty of stars during her time who were using drugs, yet it seemed like the government only focused on Holiday’s drug use because she continued to sing “Strange Fruit.”
The beginning of the movie describes the song as “a lyrical, horrifying description of a lynching,” which, until this day, there has been no anti-lynching bill passed by Congress. The government’s purpose of trying to arrest Holiday on counts of possession is because as said in the movie,“We can’t just arrest a n****r for singing a song.”
“Wouldn’t your life be easier if you just behaved?” Devine said during the interview.
This is a question that we can only assume a lot of people wondered But the director of this movie effectively explains why she wouldn’t be able to do this. As shown in this movie, Holiday could only free herself of her past, present and future traumas by singing what was in her soul. Although her addiction to heroin was one way for her to free herself of those traumas, that was only a temporary release for her. It was singing that specific song that would really allow herself to be freed because of the confrontational atmosphere that it brings to the United States during this time for the African American community.