'United States vs. Billie Holiday' Gets Political Support at Virtual Premiere

Andra Day The United States vs Billie Holiday
Everett

Director Lee Daniels was joined by U.S. Representatives Maxine Waters and Bobby Rush for Wednesday night's premiere, which also featured conversations with Oprah Winfrey and Kerry Washington.

Hulu's The United States vs. Billie Holiday hosted its virtual premiere on Wednesday night, with appearances from U.S. Representatives Maxine Waters and Bobby Rush and director Lee Daniels.

The film stars Andra Day as Holiday, the 1940s jazz singer who is targeted for a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics after she refuses to stop singing her song "Strange Fruit," which protests the lynching of Black Americans.

"I did not know that Billie Holiday kicked off the civil rights movement as we know it to be, that her song 'Strange Fruit,' about Black people being lynched, was stopped by the government," Daniels said in a video statement before the screening. "The government didn't want this song to happen and Billy, under all adversity, just kept plowing away to make sure that we all heard it."

Thanking his cast and crew, Daniels admitted that the release of the film "is a difficult time for me. We shot this movie on film and I thought it was going to be on the big screen and it's streaming. Maybe one day we'll see it on the big screen but in the meantime, thank you Hulu for believing in the project and making it possible for everybody see tonight." He dedicated film to hairstylist Charles Gregory Ross, who died of COVID-19 earlier this year.

Congresswoman Waters also appeared via video to discuss Holiday, "an artist who I very much admire."

"'Strange Fruit' was not just an influential song or piece of art. It was indeed a form of protest, a form of resistance that could not be denied, with a blatant indictment of racism in the South that pulses throughout the piece, Holiday builds on our own well-documented activism and uses her platform to bring awareness to the horrific lynching of Black Americans," Waters said. "She was indeed a brave and gifted woman who traveled through the Jim Crow South and refused to let anyone intimidate her, let alone the KKK or the government of the United States. She was a woman on a mission, a mission to raise consciousness, a mission to make her life matter. And that she did."

Congressman Rush, who introduced a bill passed by the House of Representatives last year to make lynching a federal crime, also pointed to the film's relevancy today and the need for Senate to now sign off on the legislation to turn it into law.

“The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and far too many others are a reminder we are still afflicted by the scourge of modern day lynching,” he said. “The time to act is now.”

The virtual premiere also featured pre-recorded conversations with Oprah Winfrey, Kerry Washington, Tom Ford, Laverne Cox, Gabourey Sidibe, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle with the cast and production team. The United States vs. Billie Holiday starts streaming Friday.