The biopic focuses on Holiday being targeted by federal agents with an undercover sting operation aimed at prohibiting her from singing her controversial 1939 song, “Strange Fruit,” which protested the lynchings of Black Americans. “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday” is inspired by the 2015 New York Time’s Bestseller “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” written by Johann Hari.
“With the world’s eyes forced to look at the centuries-old oppression of Black people, I hope ‘The United States Vs. Billie Holiday’ will add to this important conversation by shining a light on systemic racism and social injustice,” Daniels said. “I also feel that in this time of great reckoning it is essential we celebrate the life and artistry of an unsung Civil Rights warrior, Billie Holiday. We are proud to partner with Sierra/Affinity to bring this story to the global stage.”
Variety first reported in 2018 on Daniels and Day being attached. Daniels directed, produced and co-wrote the biopic, which also stars Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund and Natasha Lyonne. Other cast members include Tone Bell, Blake DeLong, Melvin Gregg, Erik LaRay Harvey, Miss Lawrence, Adriane Lenox, Rob Morgan, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Evan Ross and Tyler James Williams.
The script is co-written by Suzan-Lori Parks, who was the first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for her play “Topdog/Underdog.”
The film is produced by New Slate Ventures, Lee Daniels Entertainment, Roth Kirschenbaum Films with Jordan Fudge, Lee Daniels, Pamela Oas Williams, Tucker Tooley, Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum. Executive producers include Hilary Shor, Jeremy Allen, Patty Long, Johann Hari, Cassian Elwes, Mark Bomback and Dennis Stratton.
Holiday was portrayed by Diana Ross in the 1972 film “Lady Sings the Blues,” which received five Academy Award nominations including a Best Actress nod for Ross.