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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
It takes courage to speak your truth and help others in the face of adversity. Promotes compassion for others who are experiencing racism and discrimination, particularly racism-fueled violence.
Positive Role Models
Despite her troubled life, Holiday used her talent to be an activist for Black Americans suffering under a racist system. By singing "Strange Fruit," she advocated for the abolishment of lynchings. Those who sought to silence her were motivated by fear, racism. The men in Holiday's life didn't always treat her well.
Violence & Scariness
Extreme racism-fueled violence, including images of a burned body, a lynching, a burning cross. Mention of a minor experiencing rape. Mentions of physical abuse in song lyrics. Extreme physical abuse.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Several scenes of simulated graphic sex with motions/noises, some of which include explicit nudity (breasts/chest, bottoms).
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Slurs include "nigga," the "N" word, "bulldaggers," "commie." Swear words include "ass," "f--k," "f--king," "damn," "s--t," "bitch," "son of a bitch," "whore," "hell," "goddamn." Words that could be considered ableist, like "stupid."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Many scenes of drinking, smoking, and simulated use of hard drugs including cocaine and heroin. Bruised arms and paraphernalia are shown.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The United States vs. Billie Holiday tells the tragic story of jazz singer Billie Holiday's (Andra Day) life, particularly her persecution by the U.S. government. It's very mature, with many scenes of hard drug use, including heroin and cocaine. There's also drinking and smoking, and language is very strong, with uses of the "N" word, "f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," and more. Several scenes include nudity (breasts, bottoms), simulated graphic sex, violent physical abuse, and racist violence, including lynchings. There are also mentions of sexual assault, particularly the assault of a minor. The importance of courage and compassion are showcased as well. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This disappointing biopic is a disservice to Day's performance, which is Oscar-worthy. She single-handedly saves the film from being a complete mess through her dedication to embodying Holiday's trauma, sadness, and immense talent. Hearing the result of Day's work to train her voice to sound exactly like Holiday's is awe-inspiring. But because the film is so poorly made, her excellent portrayal risks being overlooked.
One explanation for the film's disjointed feel is Suzan-Lori Parks' script: Her plays are known for their dream-like, vignette-style approach to storytelling, which doesn't translate well here. And director Lee Daniels isn't known for his subtlety or for making gradual leaps in logic in his projects. Together, these two elements create a cacophony of stylistic choices, camera angles, and image treatments. A scene might switch from black-and-white to cinema verité-style camerawork and back to the look of a traditional theatrical film. Scenes are cut off before viewers can establish information -- including who a character is, how they relate to Holiday, and their motivations. Because characters flit in and out of untethered scenes and because of the film's focus on the salacious over the core of the story -- how the U.S. government waged war on an individual woman for daring to stand up for her people -- The United States vs. Billie Holiday ends up serving no one.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.