Andra Day Shine as Black, Bisexual Icon Billie Holiday in New Biopic

Natasha Lyonne plays her lover, Tallulah Bankhead, in Lee Daniels’ upcoming Hulu film The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
For those who don’t already know, Billie Holiday was very, very queer.
The jazz icon and activist was openly bisexual throughout her career and was known to date prominent actresses, including Tallulah Bankhead, who is best known for her appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 film Lifeboat. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you watched her 1972 biopic Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross, which sadly omits any mention of her bisexuality.
So when the openly gay director Lee Daniels was first reported to start work on a new biopic of the singer, entitled The United States vs. Billie Holiday, it seemed like he might take the opportunity to redeem the musician’s queer legacy. Now, with the arrival of the film’s first trailer, it’s confirmed that Daniels’ version will certainly touch on Holiday’s queerness, as well as her role in the Civil Rights movement.
In the first few seconds of the trailer, Holiday (played by Andra Day) can be seen alongside her lady friend Bankhead (Natasha Lyonne) as they lean against the counter in a jewelry store. The film also features a cast of Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (High Fidelity), and Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris).
Though Day is not known to be publicly queer, Daniels has said that the decision to cast her in the titular role was a no-brainer. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he said he thought Day “was enchanting and she did embody the spirit of Billie” in their first meeting. Only after he sent her to an acting coach and saw a video of her “prepping and getting into character” was he fully convinced that Day was the one for the gig.
“Just from that 30 seconds of video footage, I saw Billie Holiday without question,” he said. “The game was up. There was no acting. There was just being.” After she sang Strange Fruit for him in a formal audition, he sealed his decision.
The film follows the release of Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman-starring biopic of another Black, queer musical pioneer.
The fact that these two movies aren’t afraid to tell the true queer history of these trailblazing women come as a relief to so many of us queers, who have been disappointed by the straight-washing of LGBTQ+ icons in biopics past. We’re looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday premieres February 26 on Hulu.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 04: Andra Day attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

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