EXCLUSIVE: The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Hulu’s dramatic retelling of the “Strange Fruit” singer’s battle against the federal government, originated as a single chapter in Johann Hari’s 2015 book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
When tapped by director Lee Daniels to pen the script, Pulitzer-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks transformed Hari’s pages into a screenplay that would weave Holiday’s hits into the scenes featuring Andra Day as the prolific jazz singer. “Suzan-Lori Parks exquisitely structured the songs to tell the story so each song moves our story ahead and tells the situation that we’re in,” Daniels said. “As the story is unfolding, each song is representative of the situation that Billie was going through.”
The United States vs. Billie Holiday takes place in the 1940s in New York and follows Holiday, who is targeted by the federal government in its growing efforts to escalate and racialize the war on drugs, ultimately aiming to stop her from singing her controversial ballad “Strange Fruit.” Holiday’s defiance through music would help usher in the civil rights movement.
Day, who made her acting debut with Daniels’ film, became the first Black best drama actress winner at the Golden Globes in 35 years on Sunday. She stars in Billie Holiday opposite Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Tyler James Williams and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. The film also features Lawrence ‘Miss Lawrence’ Washington, Leslie Jordan, Rob Morgan, Evan Ross and Natasha Lyonne.
Jordan Fudge, Daniels, Pamela Oas Williams, Tucker Tooley, Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum are producers. Hilary Shor, Jeremy Allen, Patty Long, Johann Hari, Cassian Elwes, Mark Bomback and Dennis Stratton serve as executive producers.
Read Parks’ script below.