The United States vs Billie Holiday is a mess at time, unfocused but it is a story that needs to be told… and heard. Check out the details in my parents guide movie review.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday tells the bitter story of one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time. Born Eleanora Fagan to a teenage mother, she was deperately poor and began working at the tender age of 12 doing various things in a house of ill repute in Baltimore where her mother “worked”. Some years later they moved to New York City just before the Great Depression. During these hard times she auditioned for a singing job and here career began working and recording with a vertible who’s who cast of jazz legends including, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw. She quickly developed a great working relationship with Basie’s tenor sax player Lester Young, who nicknamed Billie “Lady Day” (The First Lady of Jazz), and she in turn nicknamed him “Pres” (The President of Tenor Saxophonists). Their’s was a friendship that would last the length of her career. Check out the details in my parents guide movie review.
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The United States Vs. Billie Holiday Parents Guide
The United States vs. Billie Holiday focuses on the last 20 years of her life. She is already a big star enjoying great success, but this is during a time when the government, particularly narcotics bureau chief Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund) is cracking down on drugs and needs to put a face to what he believes are the evils causing the downfall of American (white) society; namely jazz (black devil music) and drugs. He is rather upset that Lady Day keeps singing the song “Strange Fruit” which draws attention to the lynching of black people, fearing it sends the wrong message to folks. This is of course a racist view that is the exact opposite of what the song does. He knows that it could cause a stir among the black people of America that could potenitally lead them to revolt against the America he wants to keep, and dare I say it, lead them to seek civil rights? Oh the horror! While he is deperate to charge her with something, he can’t legally get her for singing a song, but he can arrest her for drug use. He sends agent Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) to seduce her as part of his recon. This eventually leads to her arrest and imprisonment for a year and a day in 1947.
The United States Vs. Billie Holiday Age Appropriate
Lets take a look at what parents need to know before allowing their kids to view The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
Language: This film contains extremely harsh language with cuss words including: the F-word, the B-word, the S-word, the N-word, d*mn, a** and much more. This strong language is said frequently throughout the film.
Nudity/Sexual Content: This film contains frequent and graphic sex scenes and nudity. The nudity is mostly topless females and bare buttocks.
Alcohol/Drugs: Frequent drinking and drug use is shown. The drug use is extremely graphic, with heroin being prepared on a spoon and shown injected into the arm. These drug use scenes are shown multiple times throughout the film.
Violence: There are a few scenes which contain domestic abuse, choking, punching, kicking and more. The film highlights Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” which is about lynching. There is one very difficult scene to watch, where a woman is lynched in a tree and her children and husband are screaming and crying.
Morseo than her involvement with the government as the title suggests, The United States vs. Billie Holiday revolves more around Billies drug abuse and her revloving door of lovers, including Jimmy Monroe, Joe Guy, and her off and on flings with agent Jimmy Fletcher. Brilliantly acted by Andra Day, Billie is brought to the screen in a portrayal for the ages. Capturing her signature vocal style and trademarked raspy intonation, she conjures the passion and pain Billie encompassed throughout the struggles and strife, leaning heavily on the bottle and the needle to hep her through. Her tumultuous life waxes and wanes evoking many emotions in her relatively short 26 year career, all the while being relentlessly pursued by the government hell bent on shutting her up at every turn. Billie was an icon of strength at the same time her vices weakened her, culminating in her diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver which ultimately led to her tragic death at the age of 44 from heart failure and pulmonary edema. Even to the bitter end Ansliger targeted her, refusing to stop his campaign and had Holiday arrested and handcuffed to her hospital bed for drug possession as she lay dying. Billie Holiday expired penniless with only 70 cents in her bank account after being repeatedly swindled out of her earnings.
The overall theme of The United States vs. Billie Holiday is to shed light on how cruel the powers-that-be can be when driven by the lust to quench actual justice in the name of justice. Clearly lynching is wrong, but since 1937 when it was presented up to the present day, anti-lynching laws have yet to be passed by congress…let THAT sink in for anyone on the fence about what is passed off as justice in this country. So often the voice of reason and integrity is stifled by hatred and ignorance to maintain the status quo. It draws a parallel to current American events and how many in this land want to take us back, regress vs. progress if you will, to the bygone backwards era of the past when everything was all white, I mean right…according to them. That voice of freedom needs to be heard loud and clear now more than ever, and in Billie Holiday, oh what a voice that is (was). Poignant and powerful, this is a story that needed to be told, and begs to be seen and heard.