‘The United States Vs Billie Holiday’ missed the beat

‘The United States Vs Billie Holiday’ missed the beat

Christmaelle Vernet, Staff Writer

The highly anticipated Hulu film, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday follows the story of famous jazz singer and civil rights activist Billie Holiday being persecuted by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for her eerie ballad ‘Strange Fruit’ where she addressed the cruel lynching of Black Americans in the South. 

Words cannot describe how much I disliked this movie. I had high hopes and was instantly let down. The trailer was completely different from the film and while I am fully aware the trailer is not supposed to give away too much, it was like a preview to an entirely different movie. One positive is Andrea Day’s vocals and how she embodied Billie’s voice and persona perfectly. But the movie just couldn’t figure out what direction it was going in. Was the movie about Billie’s struggles with addiction? The song ‘Strange Fruit’?, her turbulent love life, or her being targeted by the Feds? I could never quite tell in this film. 

One thing I found completely out of line and weird was her relationship with one specific Fed, Jimmy Fletcher, who was personally hired by the Bureau to track down Holiday. He was based on a real person, and although he got her sentenced to a year and a day in prison, the two did develop a close bond. But, I did not like how the film writers made the two fall in love, and then completely abandon that relationship and turned it into a friendship that seemed out of nowhere. Something about Holiday falling for a man who got her sent to prison and was working against her for so long just made no sense to me and was kind of unsettling to watch. 

The movie barely addressed the song ‘Strange Fruit’ and while we knew the government was after her for singing it, there was no backstory and no added information about the origin of the song. There was a scene I believe was supposed to be a catalyst into why Holiday finally began singing the song once again, but it was just a long eye-straining montage that just left me more confused than before. 

The end of the movie honestly should have been the tone of the entire film. It was very symbolic and should have been the message we heard throughout the film. If I could recommend some tips on how this movie could have been better, I would have completely removed Jimmy as Holiday’s love interest. I would have put the scene that encouraged Holiday to sing the song in the first place at the beginning of the film and I would have solely focused on the song and why the Feds were after her. Although I did enjoy the music, production, and even the coloring of the film, I was more discouraged by the misleading and unfocused plot. Although I was not a fan of this film, I do think it had a lot of potential and it is very sad that it didn’t achieve that.