The drug war targets a star in The United States vs Billie Holiday

Andra Day plays the singer, as she’s harassed by the feds for her heroin use.


Charles Bramesco


On 16 May, 1947, Billie Holiday was arrested in her own apartment on the charge of narcotic possession. It was the culmination of a federal sting preying upon her open-secret dependency on heroin, an operation made possible through unsavory subterfuge that involved an agent conducting a love affair of questionable ethics with the singer.

This nasty episode in the life of a legend forms the basis for the new film The United States vs Billie Holiday, for which the first trailer has surfaced just today. The title sets the dramatic terms of this unfairly stacked conflict, with one outspoken, troubled woman of color facing the collective might of the American government.

The lead role is filled by Andra Day, the powerful alto behind the single ‘Rise Up’, making her screen acting debut with a character that puts her pipes through their paces. She’s joined by Trevante Rhodes as Jimmy Fletcher, the G-man who infiltrated her life, as well as Natasha Lyonne as the wanton-living screen idol Tallulah Bankhead, and Garrett Hedlund as narcotics bureau chief Harry Anslinger.

The most curious name attached to the project may be that of director Lee Daniels, returning to features for the first time since 2013’s The Butler. He’s been kept busy in the world of TV with his popular soap opera Empire, and now he’s ready to tackle another story about a self-possessed woman who wouldn’t let any amount of adversity hold her back.

The trailer goes heavy on Day’s singing as Holiday, not quite an impression while still imbued with the throatiness unique to her famed rendition of ‘Strange Fruit’, which we can hear on the soundtrack. If Jennifer Hudson could get an Oscar for singing her way through Dreamgirls, a similar feat seems well within reach for the lady Day as Lady Day.

The United States vs Billie Holiday comes to Hulu in the US on 26 February.

Published 11 Jan 2021

Tags: Andra Day Garrett Hedlund Lee Daniels Natasha Lyonne Trevante Rhodes

Suggested For You


By Sophie Monks Kaufman

Asif Kapadia’s intimate portrait of the late soul singer is too set on driving its own narrative agenda.


Weighing up Hollywood’s fixation with the War on Drugs

By Finley Crebolder

The trade in illegal drugs between Latin America and the US has been a favoured subject for mainstream filmmakers for decades.

Sylvie’s Love

By Cheyenne Bunsie

Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha shine in a heady tale of two lovers, set in 1960s Harlem.

review LWLies Recommends

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.