Andra Day May Have Landed the Role of a Lifetime, But She’s Only Just Begun

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The second you press play on The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, our cover star Andra Day’s acting debut, there’s a feeling so visceral you can almost hear it. You could call it magic, but if you watch the film, you’ll realize “magic” is far too cliché and syrupy of a word to accurately describe Day’s Golden Globe–winning, Oscar-nominated portrayal. Instead, it’s a feeling akin to a sound you might hear at a baseball game, the reverberating crack of wood colliding with cowhide, a grand slam that no one, Day included, really saw coming. Of course, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday is a success in the literal sense. The film has captivated audiences and received nationwide critical acclaim since its February 26 release on Hulu, but there’s another layer to this particular moment. Not only does the film reveal jazz legend Billie Holiday’s true 360 legacy (shedding light on intimate, complex sides of the singer that fans may be unfamiliar with), but it also unveils untold American history.
As the first moments of the movie unfold, a chilling melody is made more somber by a caption recalling the United States Senate’s 1937 failure to pass a bill that would ban the lynching of African Americans. Then, a direct cut reveals Day poised as Holiday onstage, dripping in a glittering silver Prada gown, shoulder-scraping diamond earrings, and the singer’s signature: a flower, precisely pinned just above her ear. Aesthetically, the image is enough to sweep you off your feet and transport you to Holiday’s three-decade era of artistry, but it’s Day’s piercing gaze and vulnerability that will keep your attention—for the duration of the film, yes, but also for everything Day has in store for us as a singer, actor, and “servant of God.” As I quickly discover over the course of our 37-minute conversation, the latter is intrinsically connected to Day’s spirit, and in her eyes, it just might be her most important role to date.

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