Billie Holiday biopic trailer gives tantalising first look at Andra Day and Natasha Lyonne as the queer jazz legend and her lover

Patrick Kelleher
·2-min read

The trailer for The United States vs. Billie Holiday has been released, and it gives a tantalising first look at the jazz legend and her lover, played by Andra Day and Natasha Lyonne.

The hotly-anticipated film focuses on Holiday’s fight with the FBI, who were threatened by her powerful song “Strange Fruit”. The song famously confronts the lynchings and killings of Black people in the United States.

The trailer, released on Monday (11 January), shows Holiday and her lover Tallulah Bankhead (played by Natasha Lyonne) visiting a jewellery store.

“Don’t you know who this is?” Lyonne’s character asks, while Holiday tells the jeweller that she’s looking for something “downright flashy”.

The trailer has given LGBT+ fans hope that Holiday’s queerness will be explored in the film. The jazz singer was famously bisexual and had both male and female lovers throughout her life, including the actress Tallulah Bankhead.

The film, due for release on 26 February on Hulu, will also explore Holiday’s legacy as a pioneering civil rights activist, director Lee Daniels told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday (11 January).

Billie Holiday ‘kicked off the civil rights movement’.

In the interview, Daniels, who is gay, said the song “Strange Fruit” was seen as a threat by the government of the day, and that turned Holiday into a target.

“When you think of Billie Holiday, you think of this brilliant tortured jazz singer that happened to have been a drug addict. I didn’t know that she kicked off the civil rights movement,” he said.

“Before there was a civil rights movement, there was Billie Holiday and ‘Strange Fruit.’ The government saw that song as a threat and she was a target. That’s history and they keep it from us.”

This is not the first biopic made about Holiday. Lady Sings the Blues, released in 1972, famously starred Diana Ross as the famous jazz singer – however, that version did not explore Holiday’s relationships with women.

Audra McDonald also won a Tony Award for playing Holiday on-stage in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.