Hulu announced today that it has acquired the U.S. rights to Lee Daniels’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and released the official trailer for the anticipated film that stars singer-songwriter Andra Day as the legendary Jazz singer.
The film is based on British writer and journalist Johann Hari’s book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of War on Drugs, which delves into an aspect of Holiday’s life that isn’t widely known. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics began threatening and targeting Holiday after she performed “Strange Fruit,” an emotional song about lynchings and racially-motivated murders in the United States, reports W Magazine. When she was admitted to a New York hospital for treatment for liver and heart disease in May 1959, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics arrested her in her hospital bed for possession of heroin. She had been the bureau’s target for two decades, and was the object of a sting operation led by Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, a Black man who was hired by the bureau’s leader Harry J. Anslinger and had an affair with the singer-activist, “whose defiance through music helped usher in the civil rights movement.” Police watched Holiday while she was lying on her deathbed.
Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner Suzan-Lori Parks wrote the screenplay for The United States vs. Billie Holiday. According to press materials, the film synopsis is:
“The legendary Billie Holiday, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, spent much of her career being adored by fans across the globe. Beginning in the 1940s in New York City, the federal government targeted Holiday in a growing effort to escalate and racialize the war on drugs, ultimately aiming to stop her from singing her controversial and heart-wrenching ballad, ‘Strange Fruit.’”
The United States vs. Billie Holiday also stars NAACP Image Award nominee Trevante Rhodes and Emmy nominee Natasha Lyonne. Garrett Hedlund, Miss Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Evan Ross, Tyler James Williams, Tone Bell, and Erik LaRay Harvey round out the main cast.
The Hulu original film will launch on Friday, Feb. 26, 2020.
“Whether you are new to the story and legacy of Billie Holiday or know every note she ever sang, I do hope our celebration of this complex woman does justice to a great musical legend and civil rights activist whose artistry resonates as well today, as it did 80 years ago,” said Daniels in press materials. “Hulu releasing this film and giving it a platform to be seen nationwide is a blessing, because as recent events reveal, our country has much work to do in fulfilling its promise of a more perfect union.”
Watch the trailer for The United States vs. Billie Holiday below.