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Film & Television

‘The United States Vs. Billie Holiday’ Review

by Betti Halsell

In The United States Vs. Billie Holiday the audience is thrown into a war zone. Viewers stare at the social terrain with world-renowned Jazz legend Billie Holiday, as she climbs through trenches of trauma, addiction, love, betrayal, and corruption, ultimately leaving some of her best men behind.

Holiday, played by Andra Day, encapsulated the current state of events happening to Black Americans with a simple string of verses over a solemn melody. Her song Strange Fruit paints a vivid picture of events that took place during her time – lynchings in the 1930’s that were happening with no reprimand. The melancholic melody still hits home today, as if America is still singing the same song, with a different tune.

Holiday bellowed with her smoldering voice,

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

The recording and performance of Strange Fruit stood out like a thorn protruding from the rosey lens the rest of America looked through, causing a problem for those in “high places”. So they created a suffocating smoke around the singer’s life, following her to her final resting place.

The movie focuses on the unsolicited surveillance from federal and local law enforcement because of the pressure that came with the iconic song. It touches on a reoccurring theme happening in newly released biographic films, uncovering people within the Black community supplying incriminating intel to the federal government.

Andra Day as Billie Holiday|The United States vs Billie Holiday, HULU

This confirms the involvement of federal sources, but also the lack of trust happening within the collective community. The film was as explicit as the song itself, telling an unbiased truth of an Artist caught in a war that went far beyond her talent.

Directed by Lee Daniels and written by Pulitzer prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks and Johann Harri, the movie depicts Holiday as an undeniable force – she was feminine and sensual, yet she held a sense of masculine ownership over her life. Although the 1900s were set in gender roles and confined social placement, Holiday was outspoken and knew she had a level of power. The salute to her self-awareness may have beckoned from her childhood. The film exposed Holiday’s early surroundings, which included the power in sexuality and a sense of liberty for women when she was young.

However, there are two sides to every coin. The trauma in her childhood may have given her the soul that is found in her voice and a sense of empowerment, but it also left her damaged. The movie captured her dependency on strong stimulants, to mange her mental state. The singer’s upbringing left her without a true vision of her reflection. The feature focused on nostalgic transitions and captured an unfiltered story of Holiday’s flaws as a friend and lover.

Andra Day as Billie Holiday and Trevante Rhodes as Jimmy Fletcher |The United States vs Billie Holiday, HULU

In The United States vs Billie Holiday, Day is joined by Trevante Rhodes (Birdbox) who played Jimmy Fletcher, the first Black FBN agent and Garrett Hedlund (Four Brothers) as Harry Aslinger, Chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Rendering the critiques from Rotten Tomatoes, the story was labeled “sloppy” and “over-characterized.” However, most of those inferential opinions came from predominantly White men. This leaves the opportunity that they may have been missed; the concept of struggle in being a Black woman, while fighting multiple layers of internal and external battles and combating different perspectives of self-worth.

America is still singing about the strange fruit that holds a rotten core, the Anti-lynching Bill was passed last year. A back-breaking victory, countless marches, too many lives lost, all for roughly 100 years of “consideration.”

The strange fruit from those times left seeds, a new harvest of injustice is ripening. Thanks to Holiday’s strong will to keep performing the truth, others have joined the choir for change. The nation is still singing about the obscurities found in racism. It’s all the same song, just a different tune. Stream The United States Vs. Billie Holiday on Hulu starting February 26.

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Film & Television

‘Black Panther’ Fans Petition To Recast Chadwick Boseman’s Role For The Sequel

Last year, Marvel Studios announced they would not recast the role of King T’Challa out of respect for Chadwick Boseman’s memory. The award-winning actor passed away in August after a private cancer battle at the age of 43.

Now, thousands of Black Panther fans are asking the studio to do the opposite to “honor” the late actor’s legacy. 

A video petition, posted by film reviewer Emmanuel “E-Man” Noisette, calls Marvel’s executives to reconsider their decision. “If Marvel Studios removes T’Challa, it would be at the expense of the audiences (especially Black boys and men) who saw themselves in him,” it states. “That also includes the millions of fans who were inspired by the character as well. By not recasting, it could stifle the opportunity for one of the most popular, leading Black superheroes to add on to their legacy. The #1 way to kill a legend is to stop telling their story.”

Black Panther 2 is scheduled for release on July 8, 2022. So far, the #RecastTChalla petition has earned over 22,000 signatures.

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Film & Television

“Concrete Cowboy” Movie Review: Taking the Scenic Route Through Netflix’s Newest Addition

written by Betti Halsell

Ricky Staub’s Concrete Cowboy unearths multiple traumas,  both in the broadening range of African-American culture and the complex circumstances of Black men and their perspective within a household setting. 

The film opens up with Cole (Caleb McLaughlin), a 15-year old boy sitting outside the principal’s office. His face bruised and bleeding from a fight he had with another kid – a moment that keeps repeating itself. His mother arrives, looking more discouraged as if she’s been called to the principal’s office one too many times herself.

Cole is a kid unable to see the consequences of his personal choices. He is full of anger and entitlement. Being a child from a broken home, he leads his life with the “right” to act out. His mother, unable to come up with another excuse for her son’s behavior, sees that Cole stays with his father for the summer in Philadelphia. This might sound like a familiar pivot to a teen-angst-driven film, but here is where things get interesting – the 15-year-old finds himself staring at the truth of his reality, coming straight from the horse’s mouth.

His father (played by Idris Elba) takes him in, and the two of them seem to forge an understanding through hardships and repeated history, a not-so-far-off truth between Black fathers and their sons that are looking to become men, Cole comes from a line of Black horse riders that live in the city.

The cinematography captures breathtaking landscapes and frameworks that seem almost otherworldly. Although the movie captivates the audience with its raw truth of reality, many people may know nothing about. Some questions that needed further explanation were left unanswered, for example, how old was Cole when his parents separated and he moved away from Philidelphia? Or when did Cole develop his summer fling when he returned to the city ranch?

Survival is the common denominator in the movie and its message, which spells out how lack of resources affects the living conditions and the quality of a person’s life and their community. 

In Concrete Cowboy, Stranger Things‘ Mclaughlin introduces the viewers to a wider acting range while playing Cole. British chameleon Elba plays Harp, Cole’s father. He also produced the film. Other cast includes Jharrel Jerome as Cole’s childhood best friend Smush, Lorraine Toussaint as the community’s ‘mother,’ Nessie, and rapper Method Man as town sheriff Leroy.

Staub highlights the Black cowboy community through this project. Reports say the director stumbled upon the culture after seeing a man on a horse in Philadelphia. He then researched the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, which led him to Greg Neri’s book, Ghetto Cowboy

The truth behind this movie leaves the audience enamored, and the images of beauty found in the concrete prairie of Philadelphia are masterpieces. The sunsets and the grading of color are painted effortlessly as if the setting was no longer the city but rather the natural breeding ground for a cowboy to lay his hat.

Concrete Cowboy is now available for streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.

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Film & Television

Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua Are Pulling ‘Emancipation’ Production From Georgia Due To Voting Restrictions

The production of Apple’s new drama is being pulled out of Georgia due to its new controversial voting rights law.

Director/producer Antoine Fuqua and actor/producer Will Smith, who the film to Apple Studios for $120 million, have announced – they will no longer be filming in the Peach State. Scheduled to begin production in June, the drama I based on a true story of Smith’s character “Whipped Peter,” an enslaved person who emancipated himself from a southern plantation and joined the Union Army. Fuqua will direct with the script by William N. Collage.

Smith and Fuqua released an official statement early Monday, which reads:

“At this moment in time, the Nation is coming to terms with its history and is attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice. We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access. The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting. Regrettably, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state.”

With this decision, Emancipation becomes the first major production to exit Georgia after Governor Brian Kemp signed the controversial bill on March 26, which was deemed racist and undemocratic. The law includes new ID requirements for voters, prohibits the distribution of water at voting sights, and restricts ballot drop boxes, among other provisions. 

At this time, it is unclear where Fuqua and Smith will move their film production work.

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