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Lee Daniels on ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’

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Lee Daniels on 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday'

At the intersection of artistry and addiction, director Lee Daniels found his connection with late blues icon Billie Holiday. 

“I had to tell her story because it lived in me on so many different levels,” Daniels told The Post. “Not just as an artist, but as an artist who also struggled with addiction.”

Daniels, 61, pulls back the curtain on the troubled 1940s jazz singer’s simultaneous battles with substance abuse and the federal government in his new film, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” out Friday on Hulu. The movie stars Andra Day as Billie Holiday, who has already been nominated for two Golden Globes for the performance.

The harrowing tale of Holiday’s traumatic childhood and tumultuous life in the spotlight has been famously recounted in the 1972 classic “Lady Sings the Blues,” starring Diana Ross, and on Broadway in the musical “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” led by Audra McDonald in 2014.

But in his tribute to the legendary songstress, Daniels chose to focus less on Holiday’s troubled past, and more on her ill-fated relationship with federal agent Jimmy Fletcher.

“It’s not a biopic,” Daniels said. “It’s really an espionage love story.”

The affair started when Fletcher was tapped by openly racist Federal Bureau of Narcotics Chief Harry Anslinger to take Holiday down for her heroin use. 

But Anslinger’s true motive for targeting Holiday was to stop her from singing her anti-lynching anthem “Strange Fruit.”

‘She called out social injustice when no one else would.’

Lee Daniels

“I get chills thinking about those lyrics,” Daniels said. “They’re so powerful because she called out social injustice when no one else would.”

“Strange Fruit” was originally a poem written by Jewish high school teacher and civil rights activist Abel Meeropol in 1937. The Bronx native penned the verse after seeing a haunting picture of a double lynching, and set the words to music for Holiday to begin performing at racially integrated New York City nightclubs in 1939.

The protest song infamously exposed the violence committed by white people who murdered black Americans by hanging them from trees in the segregated South. 

Amid the spectacle of Holiday’s opioid abuse, extramarital liaisons — including an intimate relationship with actress Tallulah Bankhead — and repeated stints in jail on drug charges, the movie reaches a climax: a lynching scene, in which Holiday stumbles on a terrible crime. 

“[The lynching scene] was the hardest thing I’ve ever shot before in my life.”

Lee Daniels

“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever shot before in my life,” said Daniels, who also directed the Hollywood blockbusters “Precious” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

In the scene, Holiday wanders off of her tour bus and sees children crying in front of a burning cross, a signature of the Ku Klux Klan. Their father helplessly tries rescuing their mother as her limp body hangs from a branch. 

At that moment, Holiday vows to continue performing “Strange Fruit,” despite the FBI’s attempts to silence her. 

“She didn’t want to be a hero,” Daniels said. “She would not think of herself as a civil rights leader even though she was one. She just knew she had to sing this song.”

Daniels and Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks wrapped the film before the nationwide demand for social justice, spurred by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, in 2020. Daniels said he hopes the movie inspires the Senate to pass the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, legislation that would officially designate lynching a hate crime. 

‘I want this film to open up conversations that promote change.’

Lee Daniels

“I want this film to open up conversations that promote change,” Daniels said. “If we are doing the work to address systemic racism, I think we will have a better America.”

Holiday’s call for change, “Strange Fruit,” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978, declared the “Song of the Century,” by Time in 1999 and added into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002.

As for Daniels’ homage to the late Lady Day, who died of cirrhosis handcuffed to a hospital bed a few months before he was born in 1959, the filmmaker says she approved of the film. 

“On the last day of shooting, I dreamt I saw Ms. Holiday sitting in a 1950s car,” Daniels said. 

“I asked her, ‘Is it okay that I’m doing your movie?’ 

She said, ‘Are you going to do me right?,’ and I said, ‘I think so.’ Then she smiled.”

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‘Godzilla vs. King Kong’ to become highest-grossing film of pandemic

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'Godzilla vs. King Kong' to become highest-grossing film of pandemic

It’s a roarrr-ing success!

“Godzilla vs. King Kong” is on track to become the highest-grossing North American film since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Warner Bros. and Legendary flick netted $48.1 million in its first five days since opening in theatres on March 31, Boxoffice Pro reported.

According to the film industry magazine, the movie could have surpassed $57.9 million in sales as early as last Thursday, which would be the most for any film released since March 2020.

Official figures since last weekend have not yet been released.

The epic monster movie is also streaming on HBO Max.

The movie business, like many other industries in the US, took a hit during the pandemic as theaters across the country were forced to close.

Forty percent of the nationwide theaters remain closed, according to Bloomberg.

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DMX fans remember rapper’s sweet ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ cameo

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DMX fans remember rapper's sweet 'Fresh Off the Boat' cameo

DMX fans are celebrating the late rapper’s funny bone.

The 50-year-old, gravel-voiced musician, who died Friday following an April 2 heart attack triggered by a drug overdose, showed off his comedic delivery in a 2015 episode of the Randall Park-starring ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat.”

In the episode, Louis Huang’s (Park) son Eddie, played by Hudson Yang, gets a part-time job pitching in at the home of a new neighbor — DMX. But Eddie has a lot to learn before he jumps in.

“You look older in person,” Eddie tells him in the episode, titled “We Done Son,” to which a baby-cradling DMX responds, “Fatherhood ages you. I’m tired. Emotional. Crying. Yelling. Pulling up the same cotton commercial. It’s the fabric of our lives.” 

But when an excited Eddie says he can’t wait to clue in his friends about his new gig, the hip-hop legend forks over a multipage nondisclosure agreement for him to sign.

“Sorry, little man; can’t have you blowing up my spot,” he tells the disappointed kid. “It’s the same one Oprah used on Stedman,” DMX adds, referring to Winfrey’s rarely seen longtime partner, Stedman Graham. 

The Ruff Ryder then rattles off a list of chores for Eddie to take on for his newborn daughter, including “baby-proofing the living room” and putting “lavender drops in her cloth diapers.” When Eddie asks why he doesn’t just use disposable ones, an environmentally conscious DMX responds, “ ‘Cuz I ain’t trying to leave some big-ass carbon footprint.”

In another, more touching scene, DMX gives Eddie a tour of his orchid-laden private greenhouse and offers the boy some solid relationship advice.

“When I first started growing orchids, I thought they needed the most expensive soil and lights to blossom. And they died,” the “Party Up (Up in Here)” singer tells Eddie while showing off his floral bounty. “That’s when I realized that all they really needed was time and attention.”

DMX then draws a connection between his horticultural know-how and how to treat women.

“You don’t need to get your girl a gift,” he says. “You need to give her your time.”

That clip brought a wistful reaction from Twitter user and apparent orchid-grower @CharlotteAbotsi, who shared it with a message of foreshadowing. “This morning I woke up to find the last petal of an orchid plant I’ve been trying to nurse on the floor,” she wrote in the tweet. “I should’ve known then. RIP DMX.”

That quick stint on “Fresh Off the Boat” apparently wasn’t DMX’s only connection to sitcom life. During a 2017 episode of the talk show “Hot Ones,” actress Gabrielle Union told host Sean Evans that DMX “loves” the 1980s sitcom “The Golden Girls.”

“That’s a real fun fact,” says Union, who worked with him in the 2003 film “Cradle 2 the Grave.” In the video, Union shares that DMX watched the show in his trailer on set — and invited her to join him over beers. “We would have a Heineken — and sometimes a little Crown [Royal] — and we watched ‘The Golden Girls,’ ” she says, adding, “And he would laugh hysterically.”

Union was also among the celebrities who weighed in on his passing Friday. “No words right now. Nothing but fierce love, prayers and protection for X’s family, friends and fans. This loss is devastating,” she tweeted, adding prayer emojis and a black heart.

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Marine vet pens children’s book to help military families cope with deployment separation

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Marine vet pens children’s book to help military families cope with deployment separation

A Marine veteran has written a children’s book to help kids with the challenges of a parent being deployed.

The book, titled “I Will Come Back,” will be released in May in both Spanish and English.

Author and veteran Padgy Soltis wrote the story based on her son’s experience of living in a dual military family and experiencing the deployment of both parents.

“My hope is that this book will help children experiencing issues with separation from a loved one, whether it is a day or months long,” Soltis said. “It is a reminder that they are always in our hearts regardless of the distance or time.”

Soltis originally wrote the book in 2016, when she began a new career months after her son was born. The author was sent away for two months for training when her son was only eight months old.

Then in 2017, her son’s dad was deployed for six months, a departure that was followed by a nine-month deployment in 2018 for Soltis.

“The most difficult moments between a child and parent are times of separation,” the book’s synopsis reads. “This book is the light at the end of the tunnel when being apart is inevitable. Whether it is making a trip to the grocery store, a weekend away for work, or a nine-month military deployment. ‘I Will Come Back’ reminds children and parents that regardless of the time and distance they may be apart, they will be reunited once again.”

Soltis’ book, originally a poem that helped her adjust to deployed life without her son, is “written in a simple, rhythmic style, [and] it gives kids a reassuring sense that the bond of parenthood and love knows no limits,” Soltis said.

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