Trevante Rhodes and Andra Day Cast in Lee Daniels' Billie Holiday Project Set to Explore Lesser-Known Love Affair

(L-R): Trevante Rhodes attends the New York Special Screening Of The Netflix Film “BIRD BOX” on December 17, 2018 in New York City; Andra Day attends the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Ilya S. Savenok (Getty Images for Netflix), Neilson Barnard (Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

God bless the child who’s got his own Billie Holiday biopic.

According to Deadline, one of Lee Daniels’ new projects, The United States vs. Billie Holiday is set to start production soon and has cast a few leading roles, including Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, Bird Box), singer Andra Day, Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Dolemite is My Name), Garrett Hedlund (Tron) and Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll, Orange Is the New Black).

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The film is inspired by Johann Hari’s New York Times bestselling book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. The screenplay will be written by Suzan-Lori Parks (Native Son), who won a Pulitzer Prize for her play, Topdog/Underdog. She became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer in Drama.

As Deadline reports:

The film is being produced by New Slate Ventures, Lee Daniels Entertainment, Roth Kirschenbaum Films with Jordan Fudge, Daniels, Pamela Oas Williams and Tucker Tooley. Executive Producers include Hilary Shor, George Parra, Mark Bomback and Dennis Stratton. BAFTA nominated composer Christopher Gunning (La Vie en Rose) will come out of retirement to pen the original score, while Grammy Nominated Salaam Remi (Amy Winehouse) is on board as Executive Music.

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“It is an extraordinary responsibility to tell the story of the iconic Billie Holiday. Her story is very personal to me and I hope to do justice when bringing to light this profound and complicated soula great artist and an unsung civil rights warrior,” Daniels told Deadline. Daniels also gave The Root a heads up on the upcoming project during a Pride Month interview.

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In addition to the exciting casting news, the film’s plot is sure to be tantalizing. Though we have Lady Sings the Blues as the ultimate Billie Holiday biopic, there is one particular aspect of her life that is lesser-known. As Politico reported in 2015, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics threatened the late singer several times following her iconic “Strange Fruit” performance.

W Magazine breaks it down:

Near the end of her life, in May 1959, Holiday was admitted into a New York hospital for treatment of liver and heart diseases, but when she arrived, she was arrested in her hospital bed for possession of heroin. She had been targeted by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for 20 years, and she was watched by the police while lying on her deathbed. The sting operation was led by Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, a black agent who was hired by FBN leader Harry J. Anslinger and also had an affair with the singer.

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Ah, scandal! This is definitely a Lee Daniels production.

The release date of The United States vs. Billie Holiday is currently unknown.

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About the author

Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.