Hulu has acquired the rights to Lee Daniels’ latest film, The United States v. Billie Holiday, Deadline reported. The film, which stars singer Andra Day as Holiday, tells the story of when Holiday was subject of an undercover investigation by the Federal Department of Narcotics who wanted to keep her from performing her 1939 song “Strange Fruit,” which is about the lynchings of African-Americans. According to the New York Daily News, the film depicts the “stormy love affair” Holiday has with one of the federal agents who led the undercover sting operation against the singer.
In “Strange Fruit,” Holiday sang:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
With this film, which will be released on the streaming platform February 12, 2021, Lee Daniels told Essence that it was important to him that Holiday be honored and that her painful story be told.
“Though she was an addict, she didn’t always want to be,” he said. “She wasn’t really given the option by her government and by people to get clean at that time. She dealt with a lot of pain. She grew up in a brothel. She was raped at 11 years old. She was punished for being raped by an older man. Her father died because of Jim Crow laws.”
After conversing with Daniels about the film, Andra Day became even more excited to portray Lady Day.
“That’s when I found out that the film was actually going to highlight the fact that the FBI went after her and that she was like the first martyr in the war on drugs,” she told Essence. “That to me really piqued my interest. Going in, I initially thought ‘I don’t really have an interest in remaking Lady Sings the Blues because I just feel like Diana Ross put her stamp on that and it was beautiful.’ But to find out that it was going to talk about the FBI going after her and sort of vindicate her legacy, that was really exciting for me as a fan of Billie Holiday.”
If you’ve never heard “Strange Fruit,” watch Holiday perform it below.