Billie Parent Guide
A dramatic documentary look at one of America's greatest singers.
Parent Movie Review
Before her suspicious death in 1978, journalist Linda Kuehl had been working on a detailed biography of Billie Holiday, the famed jazz singer who herself had died nearly twenty years previously after a dramatic and memorable, if tragically short-lived career. In this documentary, filmmaker James Erskine dives into Keuhl’s research, along with her incredible collection of recorded interviews with Holiday’s contemporaries, including jazz icons like Count Basie and Tony Bennett.
Fans of Billie Holiday who are even vaguely familiar with her personal life will certainly be aware that this is not going to be a feel-good movie. This is, accordingly, also not a good choice for younger viewers. While little activity happens on screen, the dialogue references unbelievable domestic abuse, prostitution, sex addiction, extensive and dangerous drug use, and a whole boatload of tragedy. Holiday was an American musical sensation, blowing audiences away with throaty, soulful vocals – but her incredible musical talent did not come without a laundry list of tragedy, poor decision making, and just plain bad luck.
Linda Kuehl isn’t an invisible party either, and her own investigation gets a little bit of screen time. Since she’s responsible for almost all of the serious research which makes the film possible, that only seems fair to me, but it does somewhat clutter up the runtime. The documentary is supposed to be about Billie Holiday, and the frame narrative about Kuehl is contextually interesting, but does little to add to our understanding of Holiday.
This documentary is almost entirely focused on Holiday as a person, and explores her relationships and predilections nearly exclusively. If you’re here because you want to learn more about her music, you’re going to be disappointed. While the song “Strange Fruit” gets a little exploration, that has less to do with the musical composition and more to do with Holiday’s horrifying experiences with racism and bigotry, as well as the terrible historical realities of lynching in that time.
If you’re a fan of jazz generally or Holiday specifically, Billie will be of interest to you. However, I don’t think this is going to nab too many new fans – even though Holiday’s life is certainly dramatic and tempestuous enough to make your average mob drama look bland. But this is, at its core, an exploration of how one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time coped with horrendous abuse, racism, drug addiction, and the terrible realities of fame – while producing a stellar body of work that has stood the test of time.Directed by James Erskine. Starring Billie Holliday, Tony Bennett, and Count Basie.. Running time: 96 minutes. Theatrical release December 4, 2020. Updated December 9, 2020
Watch the trailer for Billie
Rating & Content Info
Why is Billie rated Not Rated? Billie is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
Violence: There are references to severe domestic abuse, assault, shootouts, and suicide. There are photographs of real lynchings which show dead and mutilated bodies.
Sexual Content: There are references to sexual scenarios and prostitution. There are photographs showing a woman nude from the shoulders up.
Profanity: There are 6 uses of extreme profanity and 4 uses of scatological terms. There are occasional terms of deity and mild profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use: There are frequent references to heroin, opium, cocaine, and marijuana use. Photographs show adults smoking cigarettes and drinking.
Page last updated December 9, 2020
Billie Parents' Guide
How dependent do you think Billie’s talent was on her fast and wild lifestyle? What do you think was the biggest factor in her troubles later in life? What do you think caused her to die so young? How does her legacy influence music today? You can listen to some of her most famous songs here.
Billie Holiday’s experiences with racism in the music industry are terrible, and tragically not unique. Who are some other artists of color who struggled with the industry?
One of Billie Holiday’s most famous songs was Strange Fruit, a brooding composition about the lynching of Black Americans. For more information about lynching, you can check out the links below:
Related home video titles:
Amazing Grace is a documentary showing the recording concert of Aretha Franklin’s live album of the same name.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is coming to Netflix this month. This film tells the story of a blues artist who struggled with white men who wanted to control her career.
Racial terror is addressed in Mississippi Burning.