The United States vs. Billie Holiday

RELEASE DATE:  February 26, 2021 (streaming)

MPAA RATING:  R (violence, lynching images, language, sexual content, nudity, drug content)


If you think you know the Billie Holiday story because you have seen the 1972 Diana Ross star vehicle, Lady Sings the Blues, think again.


An uneven screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks and some jarring stylistic choices by director Lee Daniels make The United States vs. Billie Holiday a disappointing and ultimately unsatisfying film, yet one worth watching if for no reason other than the captivating and credible performance by Andra Day as one of the greatest jazz singers of all time.  


This film centers on the singer being targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics and her conflict-filled affair with Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes).  This is a raw film with several scenes difficult to view, especially those depicting Holiday’s struggles with drug addiction.  These emotional scenes and her marvelous singing offer Day opportunities to shine as a performer who clearly understood – and to some extent inhabited –her character.  


Indeed, the United States vs. Billie Holiday is not Lady Sings the Blues, but viewers may be singing the blues by the time end credits begin to roll.