Writer, director and producer Lee Daniels and Grammy-nominated singer and actress Andra Day join Washington Post Live for an in-depth discussion about their new film, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” Based on Johann Hari’s 2015 book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” the movie centers on the revolutionary jazz singer’s struggles with addiction, encounters with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the abject racism she experienced throughout her career. Washington Post opinions writer Jonathan Capehart speaks with Daniels and Day on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 1:30pm ET about the making of the film, their creative process and Billie Holiday’s enduring legacy in American culture to this day.

Highlights

Lee Daniels says before reading the script for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” he didn’t know about Holiday’s political activism or how she was relentlessly pursued by the government because of it. “I thought she was a troubled jazz singer who got into trouble with the law, and you know, did drugs and was fashionable. I didn’t know she was a political activist. And I pride myself in being smart about our history, and I thought to myself if I don’t do this, I had to do this, and I thought also how many other stories about our people have they, have been hidden.” (Washington Post Live)
Actress and singer Andra Day says she was a fan of Billie Holiday before playing her in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” bu the role deepened her love and gratitude for the revolutionary jazz singer. “It made me realize my own strength as a Black woman, and it just made me realize what we’re capable of as people.” (Washington Post Live)
When asked how present-day cases of police brutality factored into the making of “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” director Lee Daniels and actress Andra Day explained the movie and its themes are still timely, even 80 years later. Daniels shared that at one point his son was on probation at the same time as the sons of “Empire’s” Taraji P. Hendon and Terrence Howard. “It was no coincidence that they were three men, three boys, in three different parts of the world, United States, all on probation. If we didn’t have the money to keep them out of jail who knows what would’ve happened. When I did this, this was really about how we were feeling in America. How as a Black man I’m feeling in America. This movie was a call to arms.” (Washington Post Live)

Lee Daniels

Lee Daniels is an Academy Award® nominated filmmaker and television creator whose work is trademarked by authenticity and candor, providing audiences with a unique experience and raw character insight. In 2001, Daniels founded Lee Daniels Entertainment as a visionary full-service production company committed to inclusive storytelling that would serve as a platform to create authentic and original content centered around diverse and underrepresented voices. LDE’s distinguished film and television work includes Monster’s Ball, which resulted in Halle Berry becoming the first Black woman to win the Academy Award® for Best Actress; Precious, which earned comedian and actress Mo’Nique the Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actress and launched Gabourey Sidibe’s notable acting career; FOX’s groundbreaking hip-hop drama Empire starring Academy Award® nominees Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson; and Star with Queen Latifah. In 2015, Daniels signed an overall development deal with 20th Century FOX TV to create, develop, write, direct and supervise new projects under his LDE banner. Upcoming projects include Good People, the untitled Sammy Davis Jr. mini-series, The Spook Who Sat by The Door, Our Kind of People, Ms. Pat and Mason Dixie. In addition to his successful film and TV career, Daniels is a longtime LGBTQIA supporter as well as a passionate advocate and philanthropist who sits on numerous charitable boards, including Ghetto Film School, a non-profit which helps to educate, develop, and celebrate the next generation of great American storytellers.

Andra Day

Andra Day is powerful, inspiring, beautiful-- those are just a few words that illustrate her force. With a voice that can only be described as God-given, Andra has unapologetically chartered her own course for success. Hailing from Southeast San Diego, this SoCal native dedicated her life to the arts at a young age. Between singing in her church choir and diligently studying dance, theater, and music in school, it’s no surprise that she has become an internationally recognized and respected musician and singer. Her full-length debut Cheers to the Fall [Buskin Records / Warner Records] garnered a “Best R&B Album” nomination and her RIAA 2x Multi-Platinum single “Rise Up” received a nod for “Best R&B Performance” at the 2016 GRAMMY® Awards. The song has since become the anthem to the Black Lives Matter movement, providing the audio heartbeat for activists and changemakers across the world. Andra quickly followed in 2017 with the moving anthem “Stand Up For Something” [feat. Common] from the Marshall official soundtrack album and film. The song received a nomination for “Best Original Song” at the 2017 Academy Awards. Andra’s ability to connect with audiences everywhere and her commitment to giving back has allowed her to share the stage with a diverse group of people from Michelle and Barack Obama to Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys, Common and Bonnie Rait. Her undeniable beauty and vivacious personality have graced the cover and pages of Essence, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, The New York Times, Vibe, Vanity Fair and more. In 2021 Andra will make her acting debut starring as her idol and biggest musical influence, Billie Holiday, in the biopic The United States vs Billie Holiday, directed by Oscar-winner Lee Daniels. Marking a life and career-defining moment, Andra Day is sure to gain critical acclaim for her fully immersive transformation into the legend that is Billie Holiday. Day received a Golden Globe® nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama