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Friday Film Club: Andra Day Anchors "The United States vs Billie Holiday"

The "Strange Fruit" singer is an example of the toll celebrity takes on vulnerable women, especially Black women.

The last in the triptych of blockbuster Black movies premiering this Black history month — the former being Malcom & Marie and Judas and the Black Messiah — is the biographical feature film The United States vs Billie Holiday.

The Billie Holiday biopic has been long in the works. Finally, the story of Billie Holiday and her persecution by the US government is streaming on Hulu.

Big names have all teamed up to carry the weight of the story, from director Lee Daniels of The Butler to a screenplay based on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari adapted by award winning-playwright Suzan Lori-Parks. The film also stars Trevante Rhodes of Moonlight, Da'Vine Joy Randolph of High Fidelity, and Andra Day, Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter known for "Rise Up" as Holiday herself.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday - Trailer (Official) • A Hulu Originalwww.youtube.com

The film sees Holiday at the height of her career, battling the censorship from the government, racism in her life and around her, and a drug addiction. The United States vs Billie Holiday makes clear that Holiday's smear campaigns, surveillance, and brief imprisonment were an effort to stop her from singing "Strange Fruit" — a carefully calculated operation by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics who feared Holiday's song would incite protest and unrest.

The song "Strange Fruit," known as one of the first and greatest commercial protest songs, is a haunting, unflinching condemnation of lynching and is now Holiday's legacy; but most people don't know its significance to Holiday nor the country.

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Film Features

Iconic Black Culture Moments: Brandy Norwood as Cinderella

Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1997 Cinderella was a cornerstone for Black girlhood.

via Disney Plus

Once upon a time, in a land not riddled by pandemic but still riddled with systemic racism, Brandy Norwood did the seemingly impossible for a Black girl: played live action Cinderella in a Disney movie.

Brandy is an icon. We haven't forgotten, but we love to be reminded. So as we welcome the news that she'll be joining John Legend as his guest coach on Season 20 of The Voice, we'll take any chance we can get to think about and talk about her.

From her hit sit-com Moesha (now on streaming platforms!), her discography, and even her now-squashed beef with Monica (kids these days have Sabrina Carpenter, that Driver's License girl, and whoever the dude their fighting over is, but we had "The Boy is Mine"), Brandy never missed.

Of all the iconic moments she has given us throughout her career, the most memorable is her role as Cinderella in Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1997 live-action Cinderella.

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Malcolm X, Black Muslim leader, addresses a rally in Harlem in New York City

AP/Shutterstock

In February we celebrate Black History Month in America.

For the entire month, we commemorate the vast contributions from Black people who have impacted society here and abroad. After all, we are responsible for countless inventions and innovations in art, science, athletics, business, and activism, contributions that often get overlooked because of our country's pervasive legacy of racism.

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Culture Feature

Beyoncé’s 2020 Recap Shows the Power of Black Joy

Beyoncé walks the walk when it comes to showing up for the Black Community

Beyonce and Kelly Rowland in the music video for "Brown Skin Girl"

In the background of Beyoncé's 2020 recap video on Instagram plays her song "Bigger" from the Lion King soundtrack, The Gift, and later, her visual album Black is King.

The song is an ode to community, a meditation on our collective belonging to a larger whole. The lyrics point specifically to Blackness — Black belonging, Black community. Beyoncé sings: "Bigger than you / Bigger than we / Bigger than the picture they framed us to see," acknowledging the limited scope of Blackness acknowledged by larger American society.

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Culture Feature

Black Voters Won Georgia. Now It’s Time for Democrats to Listen

For too long we've been told that "Black" politics would scare away moderates

Stacey Abrams

By Larry Cooper // Shuttertsock
First thing's first: I need white people to stop treating Stacey Abrams like their savior.
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CULTURE

Best of Black Culture in 2020

I'll be calling everything an "entanglement" for the rest of my days

Beyonce in Black is King

via Disney Plus

There's no need to say it: 2020 was a rough year for everyone. But amidst the bounty of badness, there were small gems.

Black culture especially took some major losses — Rappers endorsing Trump, the death of major icons like Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman, and constant political and social unrest reminding us of the persistence of structural racism.

And yet, it managed to be a really good year for Black culture. From music to film and some of the little good quarantine content that emerged from the pandemic, the best, small joys were the products of Black joy.

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