The initial release for the new film The United States VS Billie Holiday was on February 26th, 2021. However, the movie is now coming to streaming services- you could soon watch it in your own home.
Before you watch the movie, there are some facts that you will want to know. Keep reading to find out more!
What’s the Film About?
The movie, created by director Lee Daniels, draws from the story of a famous jazz singer. Billie Holiday is targeted by the U.S. government after she wrote the song “Strange Fruit”, which was about the lynchings in the South. The government wants to stop her from performing this song and arrest her for drug use.
The film is set during the highest points of Holiday’s jazz career. The story follows her through her performances in New York City as she gains the attention of Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He wants to make an example of her.
The events of Billie Holiday’s life take place in New York City in the 40s. However, you might be surprised to learn that the film was not shot there. Instead, the movie was recorded in Montreal.
Those working on the film felt that Montreal would better represent New York City of the past. Montreal has plenty of vintage-styled buildings and old-fashioned architecture, which helped to create the setting of the film.
Real Life VS Film
Civil Rights Movement
In the film, equality under the eyes of the law is often brought up. There is a scene where Holiday encounters a family after they experience a lynching. It is a shocking reminder of the horrors during this time.
At the start of the film, we are told about an anti-lynching bill that was introduced to the Senate. However, that bill was never actually passed. The law was introduced a second time in 2019 but again did not pass.
There are several important historical events in the movie. The main conflict focuses on the war on drugs. Anslinger is presented as a corrupted person who is trying to arrest Holiday at every opportunity.
In real life, Anslinger was the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time. Today, it is now recognized that his efforts to criminalize drugs were strictly targeted at Black communities. The biggest discrepancy between the Anslinger on the screen and the real ones from the past is their age.
Ansler would have been in his 50s during the setting of the film. However, his character is portrayed as being in his early to mid-30s in the movie.
At the start of the movie, we can tell right away that Holiday has been fighting for a long time to sing her song “Strange Fruit”. She gets to sing it twice in the movie- the first time she is dragged off of the stage. The second is much later in the movie and she completes the song.
However, it was a bit different in real life. She first recorded and performed the song at the Café Society in 1939. The song was written by Abel Meeropol, who adapted the lyrics from his 1937 poem called “Bitter Fruit”. The poem was published in a journal before Holiday performed it.
As Holiday performed the song at the Café Society, the staff there established strict rules which allowed her to perform it. The song was always the last one of her set and all service stopped before she began singing, so that the audience had their full attention for the duration of the song.
Holiday’s Jail Time
In the movie, Holiday is sent to jail for more than a year. She was arrested by Jimmy Fletcher, an FBI agent. He made his way into her dressing room and got her to speak with him while he was undercover. This would lead to her arrest, where she is pulled off of the stage.
This did happen at the Philadelphia Earle Theater in 1947, although Fletcher likely did not enter her dressing room to get information. Holiday had many encounters with the law during her life; she was imprisoned for a year after that even in 1947. The reason being that her apartment contained narcotics.
Still, Holiday would return to the stage after that. After being released from prison, she performed in Carnegie Hall in 1948. This was a huge turning point in her performing career. While there, she did perform “Strange Fruit”.
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