Motown star Diana Ross — nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in her first film role — portrays legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in this biographical drama. Beginning with Holiday’s traumatic youth, the film depicts her early attempts at a singing career, eventual rise to stardom, and difficult relationship with Louis McKay (Billy Dee Williams), her boyfriend and manager. Casting a shadow over even Holiday’s brightest moments is the vocalist’s severe drug addiction, which threatens to end both her career and her life. Roger Ebert writes: “This was one of the great performances of 1972. And there is no building up to it. The opening scene is one of total and unrelieved anguish; Billie Holiday is locked into prison, destitute and nearly friendless, and desperately needing a fix of heroin. The high, lonely shriek which escapes from Ross in this scene is a call from the soul, and we know this isn't any ‘screen debut’ by a Top 40 star; this is acting.”
Intro and discussion by Charles Taylor, author of “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s” and former film critic for Salon.