“When Ella Fitzgerald sings “My Man's Gone Now,” you think he's on a trip and is due back shortly, but when Billie Holiday does it, you know that man has packed his bags, he's already down the street, and he is never coming back,” an interviewee in a documentary film titled “Billie (2019)” said.
Legendary jazz vocal Billie Holiday with a deeply appealing voice like bitter coffee had a life full of turbulence. She was raped at the age of 10 and worked as a sex worker. She was abused and exploited by her husband and partners and struggled with drug addiction. She left many great songs, including “I‘m a Fool to Want You,” “Don’t Explain,” and ”God Bless the Child,” as if she found them in the depth of suffering.
A new movie titled “Billie Holiday,” which premiered in South Korea on Thursday, shows her life from a different perspective. It is biographical fiction. R&B and soul singer Andra Day played Holliday, showcasing eye-catching enthusiastic acting and singing. It is unbelievable that this is Day’s movie debut. All of her singing scenes, which mimic Holiday’s technique and drowsy yet sorrowful face despite her voice being thinner, are highlights of the movie.
In particular, a close-up of Day singing “Strange Fruit” is the climax. The song compares the blacks dead and hung by a tree by the lynching of racists to strange fruits. The original title of the movie is “United States vs. Billie Holiday.” Day’s enthusiastic acting fulfills the movie’s intention to focus on Holiday’s efforts to fight against racism beyond her tragic personal life.
There were many documentaries about Holiday’s life. The 2019 documentary titled “Billie” is one of them. However, this is the first time in 47 years since “Lady Sings the Blues” in 1972 that a feature film about her has been made. In the 1972 movie, which focused on Holiday’s personal life while also featuring racism and drug issues, Diana Ross played the legendary jazz player. Overall, the movie was bright with an emphasis on the singer’s romance and Ross’s acting was light-hearted. Ross who was the lead singer of the Supremes showcased impeccable singing but Day’s depth of acting better showed the weight of Holiday’s life.
Ross and Day were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for playing Holiday. Ross won the Golden Globe award for new star of the year and Day won the Golden Globe for best actress in a motion picture drama.