The federal government has had a deplorable track record with successful and proud Black people and Hulu’s new Billie Holiday Biopic does a terrific job at casting a shameful glance at the government’s harassment of the legendary Jazz singer. Although there had been other movies and projects that looked at the tragic life of the great American singer, none of them focused on the U.S. government’s racist harassment the way this biopic does.
But who’s that amazing singer/actor that plays Billie Holiday? Here’s everything you need to know about her.
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Andra Day is Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday is played by American singer, songwriter, and actress Andra Day from San Diego, California. The movie zeroes in on the later part of Holiday’s career up till her death in 1959 and the federal government’s inexorable persecution of Holiday during that period. Since the focus is on her exploitation by the system, it is not strictly a biopic. Rather, it could be construed as a chronicle of the post-world war era characterized by the government’s relentless persecution of the black community (under the guise of their war on drugs), especially those specific individuals that were making socially-urgent music and were singing about issues that mattered.
This story needed to be told. The ugly in American history must be told. Billie Holiday was a hero who fought the system all by her brave, tormented self. God bless her and may Ainslinger’s rotten soul burn in Hell, alongside all the lynchers. Oscars for Andra Day🙅🏿♀️ #StrangeFruit https://t.co/61LORgLPNf
— Joy-Ann Pro-Democracy & Masks Reid 😷 (@JoyAnnReid) February 28, 2021
There were many well-known celebrities at that time that were knee-deep in trouble with drugs but the fact that only the black singers and jazz musicians were facing the government’s onslaught took on a special social significance. Andra Day plays Billie Holiday with grit, courage, and even surprises with the trademark croaky voice that Billy Holiday had during her later years. The movie is streaming on Hulu.
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Who is Andra Day?
The San Diegan Andra Day started her career as a singer, churning out mashup videos and unplugged covers on her YouTube channel. She later landed a deal with Warner Bros. Records and went on to sing on multiple originals and studio albums herself.
Her striking resemblance to Billie Holiday and unique voice made her the first choice for director and screenwriter Lee Daniels. For her role, Andra has already received two Golden Globe nominations. But she wasn’t ready for the role from the get-go. The singer-turned-actress had major doubts (as would anyone) in trying to play the legendary Billie Holiday. But she felt the story had to be told, and for that, she had to nip her fears into the bud and get on board.
Who else has played Billie Holiday before?
Some of the fear that Andra Day had about playing Billie Holiday stemmed from the fact that there had been Billie Holiday biopics and musicals before. In the film, Lady Sings the Blues, it was Diana Ross who, according to critics, gave a masterful performance that stands unmatched to this day. And in the musical Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, it was Audra McDonald who gave another gem of a performance.
It is fortunate for Lee Daniels, the director, and us viewers that Andra Day’s fear of ‘just not being good enough’ was overcome quickly and we get to see her portray one of the best jazz singers to have entertained America and tried to bring change through her music, a singer who was hounded by the government until her untimely death at the age of 44.
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