The Academy extended its eligibility period for films to February 28, and just two days before that cutoff, Hulu will be releasing a very last-minute Oscar contender. The streaming giant’s synopsis of the film tells us that The United States vs. Billie Holiday follows the time in the life of the legendary jazz singer when “the federal government targeted Holiday in a growing effort to escalate and racialize the war on drugs, ultimately aiming to stop her from singing her controversial and heart-wrenching ballad, ‘Strange Fruit.’” Director Lee Daniels told The Hollywood Reporter that seeing the 1972 film about Holiday entitled Lady Sings the Blues helped inspire his decision to become a director.
It follows that making his own feature about the singing icon would come with a high standard for the casting of its star. Daniels shared in the same interview the moment when he was convinced that newcomer Andra Day was the woman for the job. “I sent her to an acting coach because she had not acted before,” Daniels recalled. “And the acting coach, on the fly, turned her iPhone on and showed me her prepping and getting into character. Just from that 30 seconds of video footage, I saw Billie Holiday without question.”
Starring in the film will be Day’s feature acting debut, a feat made even more impressive by the buzz that her performance could place the newcomer in this year’s highly-competitive category of Best Actress. Variety describes her work in the feature as a “committed and lived-in portrayal,” as well as “immensely moving.” Day also happens to be a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and co-wrote the film’s song “Tigress & Tweed,” which could also get her a nod for Best Original Song.
Daniels could earn a spot on the Best Director nominee list as well. He already has one nomination in the category under his belt for 2009’s Precious, a film he also produced and for which he also received a Best Picture nod. The director category is stacked this year, so it remains to be seen if Daniels will break through the competition, or if his breakout star in The United States vs. Billie Holiday will follow in the footsteps of Precious actor Gabourey Sidibe. That is to say, Sidibe also made her feature acting debut by starring as the titular character in one of Daniels’ films, and she successfully landed a Best Actress nomination right out of the gate.
There could also be acting nominations for other members of the film’s star-studded cast, which boasts names like Trevante Rhodes, Natasha Lyonne, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, and Evan Ross. We’ll find out on March 15, when the Oscar nominations are announced, how many nods The United States vs. Billie Holiday picks up this year and in which categories. And you can judge for yourself the film’s Oscar-worthiness when Hulu releases it on February 26. In the meantime, you can find a preview of the film here.