Playwright and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks adapted USA vs Billie Holiday from Johan Hari’s book from 2015 on the war on drugs, Chasing the Scream, and the film, which debuts on Hulu in February, depicts the U.S. government pursuing a vacation for her heroin use in connection with the FBI’s efforts to suppress her notion of “Strange Fruit,” which the government feared would galvanize anger from Black Americans.
Day, in his first important acting role, appears opposite Trevante Rhodes, who plays a mysterious character who surfaces behind the scenes one night and turns out to have more complicated motifs than a pure fan. Garrett Hedlund is Harry Anslinger, the leader of the FBI̵
For Daniels, who collected Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations for his 2009 film Precious Bar: Based on the new “Push” by Sapphireand who produced 2001 Monster’s Ball, The 1972 Diana Ross / Billy Dee Williams film about Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues, had been formative. “At 13, I saw[[[[Lady Sings the Blues]in Philadelphia, and I saw two black people in love, Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams, “says Daniels, now 61.” They were beautiful, amazing. This fashion was fabulous. That was all I grew up with as an inner child in Philly, except it was in Harlem, and it just stroked my life. I had never seen anything like it ever. That was why I ended up leading, which is weird because I ended up leading her story, but it was not a story. That was a lie. It became faith. “Where the 1972 film was a romanticized portrait of Holiday’s relationship with her fourth husband and road manager Louis McKay, who retained control of his property,” Daniels said, “I really wanted to show black love, which we do not see very often – it is flawed and messy, yet it is beautiful. “
Before starting his film, Daniels says he called Motown record company founder Berry Gordy, who produced Lady Sings the Blues, to ask for permission – and got it. “I do not think I would have made the film if he said do not,” Daniels says.
Early on several people, including Daniels’ manager and agents, urged him to consider Day for the role, but he was resilient. “I don’t like being pressured into anything,” he says. But he took a meeting with Day “and she was enchanting and she embodied Billie’s spirit,” Daniels says. “I sent her to a acting coach because she had not acted before. And the acting coach, on the go, turned on her iPhone and showed me that she managed and became character. Just from the 30 second video footage, I saw Billie Ferie without question. The game was up. There was no action. There was just to be. “Day later sang” Strange Fruit “in a formal audition for Daniels, and her cast was sealed.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter. Power USA vs Billie Holiday on Hulu.com.