Andra Day on the tragedy and triumph of Billie Holiday  

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, it’s Brittany. I can be honest with y’all, right? We’re family. I am feeling a tough mix of emotions right now, and none of them are relief. I am grateful that George Floyd’s family has received the little bit of accountability that this system allows. And and I pray that they receive even an ounce of closure because there is no justice if they don’t get to hug their George. And I also feel so much dread for the way I just know things are going to go back to business as usual in so many places. Folks will say, you know, justice was served, the system works. But one guilty verdict does not justice make, not when an entire institution is still hunting us. Listen, guilty was the only correct call to make, but we can’t be satiated by a single conviction. The point, the entire point is that the whole system is guilty as hell and it needs to be dismantled in its entirety. If you don’t believe that, look no further than the fact that as the verdict was called out and we were all processing it, Columbus, Ohio police shot and killed a 15 year old girl. We see how the police are desperately trying to rehabilitate their image. They condemn and try to distance themselves from Chauvin. He doesn’t reflect our values, they say. In closing remarks, the prosecution even said this is not an anti-police prosecution, it’s a pro-police prosecution. So the cops are more than happy to sacrifice Derek Chauvin. It is to their advantage. They get to be seen, by contrast, as reasonable. But I’ve been saying it for years and I’ll keep saying it until the wheels fall off. This is not about an individual. It is about an institution. This is not about bad apples. It’s about bad roots. Chauvin is not an aberration or an exception. He is the rule. He is the product of a system built to control bodies and protect property. And no one verdict can change that. No police force makeover can change that. Only we can. 

I just started reading We Do This ‘til We Free Us by long time abolitionist Mariame Kaba. It’s helping me imagine what abolition really can look like and what I or anyone can do to help achieve true transformation. Kaba writes, “Nothing that we do that is worthwhile is done alone.” So let’s link arms and stay focused. Stop, I’m talking about bad apples, and uproot the tree. 


On the show today Andra Day. I’ll be talking to the Oscar nominated actress about the complex legacy of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday. 

Andra Day I don’t know that she was complicated. I think that the circumstances were complicated because the reality is she was just a Black queer woman trying to live freely in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, trying to do what was right. Talk about lynching in America, integrating audiences. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first, it’s your “UNtrending News.”   

On Monday, Republican Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis signed a so-called anti-riot bill. Yeah, you know what that’s code for. The new sweeping legislation makes it a possible felony to be at a protest if it turns violent, even if you didn’t participate in the damage. It also upgrades a number of protest related misdemeanors to felonies like blocking a highway. And anyone charged will be denied bail until their first court appearance. But yet the law grants civil immunity to people who drive into protesters. Here’s what Democratic Senator Shevrin Jones had to say. 

Shevrin Jones I’d just like to remind Governor DeSantis that today is April 19, 2021, and not April 19th, 1961. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Unfortunately, Florida is not the only state working on anti-protest legislation. In Minnesota, the same place where we just got that verdict and where Daunte Wright was killed, a proposed bill would make anyone convicted of a crime at a protest ineligible for student loans and food stamps. Just like all the new voter suppression laws, all 29 of the protest suppression laws being considered across the country are all about trying to quash our voices. The GOP is absolutely afraid of our power. After all, protests are what got the world’s attention last summer. And even as flawed as the courts are, protests are what got the Chauvin trial overseen by a fair attorney general. Lest Ron DeSantis and his homies be reminded, y’all’s country and those founding fathers you love, they were protesters. We will march whenever we see fit and shame any of those who try to get in our way. 

Over in Baltimore, nearly 100 private school students walked out this week in support of a Black teacher. Adrienne Knight, a middle school drama teacher, resigned earlier this year after she posted a YouTube video that details a racist interaction she had with a white student. So the student allegedly glued a piece of paper to a desk for no reason. And when Knight asked her to clean it up, the girl told her to, quote, “Fetch some cleaning materials,” so Knight could do it herself. Knight let the people know exactly what was wrong with this picture in her video. 

Adrienne Knight She talked to me like I worked for her. And I’m like, sis’ I’m not your nanny, I do not work for you in any capacity. I am not your servant of any kind. So I just feel like we need to be teaching our children. You respect all people. And also there are certain things that you cannot say depending on who you’re talking to. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Last Friday’s walkout by Black and white students from Knight’s Bryn Mawr School and to other nearby private schools was an act of solidarity with her message. Their signs read, “Recognize Black Faculty” and “Justice for Miss Knight.” Students also used the protest to shed light on the movement for Black Lives. I love a student walkout now, and I’m glad to see young folks standing up together for Black Lives and for Black teachers. The younger generation knows what’s up. We matter in every institution and every institution needs to feel the pressure until they do the right thing. 

And finally, gymnast Simone Biles says she’s returning to the Olympics in part to represent survivors of sexual abuse. The four time Olympic gold medalist spoke to The Today Show about her return to the mat for the upcoming games in Tokyo. Simone says she wants to show up for the many victims of former Team USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, a group that includes her. 

Simone Biles I just feel like everything that happened — I had to come back to the sport to be a voice, to have change happen, because I feel like if there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would have just brushed it to the side. But since I’m still here and I have quite a social media presence and platform, they have to do something. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Good for you Simone, for using your platform as the most decorated gymnast of all time and for your bravery as an incredible survivor to make your voice heard. Nassar may be in jail, but as Simone points out, there are still changes that need to be made within the sport to ensure that no future gymnast ever has to endure what she and others went through. 

Coming up, I’ll be talking to Andra Day about Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit, and the ongoing movement for Black Lives right after this short break. 

And we’re back until recently, Andra Day was best known as the Grammy nominated singer behind the 2015 racial justice anthem Rise Up, but these days she might be better known as an Academy Award nominated actress. In her first major role, Andra plays the title character in the United States Vs.  Billie Holiday. The new film, directed by Lee Daniels, focuses on a tumultuous period in the 1940s when Billie was targeted by the U.S. government because she refused to stop singing Strange Fruit. 

Andra Day as Billie Holiday Southern trees —

Audience Member Get her off that stage.

Andra Day as Billie Holiday bear a strange fruit.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s a bit of Andra Day as Lady Day. Andra has already been winning rave reviews for her transformative performance not to mention a Golden Globe award. And this Sunday, she could make history as only the second Black woman after Halle Berry to win the Oscar for best actress. Andra, thank you so much for joining us. I’m so grateful to be having this conversation. 

Andra Day Oh, me, too. I’m looking forward to this. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham It’s been quite a week, but I always try to center Black joy. I mean, you’ve won some incredible awards. You’re now up for an Oscar. Congratulations to you. 

Andra Day Thank you so much. Thank you. I’m very appreciative. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, you’ve been at this work for a while, but the synergy of this moment comes on so many layers. Is it true that your last name Day is a tribute to Billie Holiday? 

Andra Day Yes, it is. I thought about taking — cutting my name in half right? Andra’s short for Cassandra and I thought about taking the Holiday, but it just felt too much like a copy. And that’s not what she did for me. She really helped me to own my own creative contribution, to really own my voice and my — this idea that I could be a great singer, you know. So it was more like a thank you to her to — now I’m my own Lady Day. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, I love that. Honoring the ancestors always. And I mean, she was a genius. There is so much genius flowing through you, not just as a singer, but also I think everybody can see, as an actress. 

Andra Day Oh thank you. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And I will be honest, I can’t believe this is — this is your first major acting role. And I heard that you were reluctant to do this movie at first? 

Andra Day Yeah, of course. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Tell us why. 

Andra Day Well, it’s like if somebody were to come up to you and be like I mean, I don’t know. Do you cook 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, when I have time, yes. 

Andra Day Okay, if it was like if somebody came up to you and was like, “All right, Brittany, you know, President Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama are here and they have a whole bunch of their dignitaries and their guests and they’re having this fancy dinner. And we want you to cook this five course meal for them. It has to be the top line chef done stuff and da da da, because you know what I mean? It’d be like, nah, hell no. Like, you know what I mean? I’ll give the talk, you know what I mean? And that was my thinking, sort of I’ll do the end title song. So that’s what it felt like. It was like yes, go be the starring role playing Billie Holiday in a movie directed by Lee Daniels. You know, to me, it was like, bro, I’m not cooking that meal for the Obamas. It’s not happening. So it’s just this idea that I’m like, I’m not a chef, I’m not an actor. So I was — didn’t want to be terrible, but I met with Lee, decided to meet with Lee, and he didn’t want to work with me either. You know, he’s like, I want an actor. This is a heavy role. I want an actor. And so we didn’t really want to meet with each other anyway but we did anyway. And we sat there and we just really kind of fell in love. We bonded over like insecurities and this idea that we really wanted to honor her legacy. And that we’d be vindicating Billie Holiday’s legacy, that the world would finally see that she sang Strange Fruit in defiance of the government. They killed her for it like, she really sacrificed, you know what I’m saying? And in the midst of dealing with her own illness, which is the addiction and the trauma behind it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. 

Andra Day So that was incentivizing for me to do the audition. And then it was prayer. Prayer was a huge thing for me. I’m a very spiritual person. So it was reading the scripture about doing an act of great faith. And that’s when I knew I was like, Oh man, I think I’m going to have to do this. I think I’m going to have to cook the Obamas a five course meal.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham We glad you did, because you was in that kitchen chopping, stirring, sauteing, cooking. 

Andra Day Cheffing. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You were cheffing, you were doing it. I mean, and to your point, you were doing and engaging in this beautiful act, not just of taking on this role, but of helping redefine and and broaden her legacy and portray her differently than she’s been portrayed. I’ve been a fan of Billie since I was a child. She was complicated. Right? She was multilayered. She was fully human. She was an icon, you know, and a target in the way that you just spoke to. You talked about her addictions, her traumas. We know that she was involved with men, some of whom were incredibly violent. 

Andra Day Yes.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham We also know she was attracted to women and that the movie talks about and acknowledges her relationship with the actress Tallulah Bankhead. This is definitely not a one note situation. 

Andra Day Yeah, no, absolutely not. And I — to be honest with you, there could be ten more movies about her life, you know what I’m saying? Because it’s just like —

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. 

Andra Day there’s so many layers to it. And it’s so — and, you know, I use the word complex, right? Because we are all complex, typically the word complicated I don’t even use that because I mean, I guess they’re similar, but they’re not quite the same. Right? If you really put complicated and complex next to each other, not exactly the same. But I would always say, like, I don’t know that she was complicated. I think that the circumstances were complicated. She was complex. The circumstances were complicated. Because the reality is she was just a Black, queer woman trying to live freely in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, trying to do what was right. You know what I mean? Talk about lynching in America, integrating audiences. The complication is that the world around her said, “We don’t want you to be — live freely as a Black person, we don’t want to live freely as a woman. We don’t want you to live freely as — as a queer woman.” You know what I mean? So this idea that the government put their entire force into going after one woman, not only that they infiltrated our community with drugs, but then then created this war on drugs to go after a woman because she’s saying — not even to just say, hey, stop white supremacy, to actually stop just lynching you know what i mean? Like,  I can’t get you to see at least just the random murder of us, not the random, but the the mob killing of Black people is wrong. But that’s so tied to the culture in the fabric of America. So, you know, she — that was complicated. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. 

Andra Day She, she actually was very, very clear. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So clearly, you understood and brought to this role an understanding of the contextual background. To your point, the complications of living Black, queer, and woman in America. But you also then actually had to get ready to channel her. How did you —

Andra Day Now that was complicated as hell.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, it had to be right? Like, tell us how you prepared for that, because it couldn’t have been a small task. 

Andra Day No, no. I mean, it wasn’t. And there was no — I mean at all. You know, first of all, it was just meeting Lee, was talking tons of conversations with him just about how he wanted Billie to be portrayed in this movie. And a huge thing for him was not a victim. And then the research involved every book, every documentary, biographies and autobiography. Obviously, Lady Sings the Blues, all of her music, every photo. I promise you, I have probably seen if it is available to the public, every photo of Billie Holiday. Audio clips of her just interviewing or like the difference in her voice between when she’s just shooting the shit with her band, when she is in the record making side. If she’s high, if she’s sober, if she’s possibly drunk, you know, and when she’s happy, when she’s sad, just the different tonal changes. I don’t drink or smoke or cus or do drugs or have sex and  had to basically engage in most of that except for no heroin. And I am still abstinent. I just was more sexual in my behavior. My thinking, my being, smoking a lot of cigarettes, drinking a ton of gin, lost almost 40 pounds. I cut all my hair off, you know, and just I had to be — be her. I had to change. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So you do all of that and you sing all of her songs yourself in the film. 

Andra Day Yeah. That is true. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, we all know you to be a powerhouse singer, but Billie’s voice is so signature. What was navigating that challenge like? 

Andra Day I mean, first it was just an awareness. You know, I think in the beginning I knew I did not want to do this movie without doing her voice because I love her voice. And I — when I say I love her voice I’m not even talking about her singing voice, which I obviously love. But her speaking voice is such a character. You know what I mean, the way it moves is like she could be talking about nothing and I’m probably going to be laughing and enamored and stuff. So I wanted to do it. Lee wanted it, which was so, so, so amazing. But he was clear with me he’s like, it can’t be an impersonation. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. 

Andra Day You can’t just sound like her. It has to be an interpretation, you know. And I think everyone thinks automatically the entry point is this music. Actually, it was — it was really her laugh. That’s really what helped me into the voice you know. Lee loved it. Lee would always just kind of like emulate me when we’re on set with the laugh or one of my warm ups. There’s an audio clip of her just practicing getting into some — like she’s in a session with her band — bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah. So you hear me all the time on set and he would start copying me, bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah. So, you know, it’s just it’s yeah. Her voice is — is beautiful. It’s like a warm hug. I don’t know how to describe it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Can you give us that laugh one more time? 

Andra Day Her laugh is — let me see if i can get you, ha ha ha. Like her laugh is like this really heavy broken up and it pings. Ha ha ha. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Oh my Gosh. 

Andra Day So that’s kind of like my thing. You know? That’s her thing. Yeah. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Wow. Wow. I love that laughter being a gateway to this beautiful art that you created. 

Andra Day Thank you so much. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So I want to go back to this — this historical aspect again, because this film covers much of her life. But really is about a fixed point in time where she’s being targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics and they want her to stop singing this honest, revelatory, gut wrenching 1939 protest song we’ve already talked about, Strange Fruit. What is so threatening about a song that honest? 

Andra Day Honesty, truth is threatening. You know what I mean?

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah.

Andra Day Honesty is threatening. For some people, it’s revelatory, it’s amazing, it’s healing and it’s light. And that’s really what she represented. That’s what Strange Fruit represented. And really, we live in a system, you know, a system of oppression and a system of racial inequality is one that is built on controlling the narrative. And so that means deception, lies, misleading, suppressing certain narratives, totally changing certain narratives or getting rid of certain narratives. Truth threatens — the only thing that can dismantle a system based on lies is probably truth. So, you know, when you think about it like that, it depends on your agenda. If your agenda is to continue white supremacy, to continue racial inequality, if this — if you’re threatened by the presence of other people living fully and in totality, then yeah that’s a scary song. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Absolutely. And that truth galvanizes people to fight back. Black folks in particular. The FBI definitely doesn’t want that. It doesn’t want Black people pushing back on, as she’s saying, this Strange Fruit hanging from the poplar trees. 

Andra Day Yeah. And also even white folks, you know, I mean, she’s one of, she’s not the first, but she was one of the first artists to integrate Carnegie Hall. So the fact that white people at the time were probably still racist, you know what I mean? Some maybe not, some more trying to be allies, I mean, an array of people. But they love Billie. And so for them to say, I want to sit next to Black people to watch her, the FBI also was like, uh oh.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Right. 

Andra Day So she is going to integrate an audience and then sing Strange Fruit to all of them at the same time. We’ve got to take her down, you know what I’m saying? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah.

Andra Day She did all of that. And with no civil rights movement supporting or bolstering her, you know, it’s broad shoulders. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And so you hear this song that did all of that in your own life when you’re 11 years old for the first time, do you remember what you thought of back then? 

Andra Day I just remember feeling sad for her and bad and like, you know, it’s kind of scary, but just feeling like I was, first of all, just stopped in my tracks. You know what I mean by the song? I did not understand what the song was saying. Obviously, I was 11, you know, so it wasn’t registering like that. But I just knew that whatever she was singing, I felt like something had happened to her. It was more directly related to her. Something had happened to her, something bad had happened to her. And it just — I was definitely really perturbed, but really inspired. I remember thinking to myself, whatever I do as a musician, this is the effect that I want it to have on people, even if it’s a happy song. I just want it to stop them for a minute. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So this song that has this massive effect, including pulling the weight of the FBI and the entire country down on, like you said, her broad shoulders, the FBI goes after Billie for Strange Fruit. They can’t get her, so they go after her for her drug addiction and her struggles there. She’s imprisoned in 1947. The next year, as you said, she performs to this sold out crowd at Carnegie Hall. But her addictions really do catch up with her because those demons are deep. And as you said, she — she passed away at just 44 in 1959. 

Andra Day Yeah. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham There’s so much triumph and yet still tragedy in her life. What do you really calculate her legacy to be? 

Andra Day You know, even to be honest, even speaking about her death like, yes, those things definitely caught up what really her — her illness because she never got treatment. You know what I mean? She tried to get treatment and she went to rehab as she tried to get treatment multiple times, but they would actually set her up and plant drugs on her, you know, if you can even imagine drugs being planted in rehab. And so that’s the real deception, is they didn’t want her to get clean. They just were using it as a way to exploit her, really to kill her and silence her. So she had cirrhosis but there’s still speculation, you know what I mean? Also, the nurses wanted to keep her on methadone when she was in the hospital and they knew that taking her off methadone would kill her. She was going through methadone treatments to try to rehabilitate her. And they’d go, no more methadone, no methadone, that’s drugs, that’s drugs, that’s drugs. And they knew what they were doing and they took her off methadone and she died. So she — she truly was systemically murdered. Executed. If that makes sense.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham It makes perfect sense. 

Andra Day Yeah. Because that’s what Hoover does and that’s what Harry J. Anslinger did and what they still do today. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And so she’s a target of this war, like you said, this incredibly systemic maltreatment. And she’s also, as you pointed out earlier, one of the great godmothers of — of that reinvigorated civil rights movement. Both things are true. 

Andra Day And that’s what I was really going to say as far as her legacy. She truly was the great godmother of the reinvigorated civil rights movement. We don’t know this. We know about the death of Emmett Till, how it sparked things, but we don’t know that her singing Strange Fruit in defiance of the government emboldened a lot of the civil rights leaders that we’re familiar with today. She represents truth to me. She represents freedom fight. She represents conquering your fears. She knew that she’d probably be killed every time she got up on stage to sing that song, and she did it anyway. Police would chase her when she left the club, shooting into her car with the intent to kill her. So, you know, and still without the support of the civil rights movement. And so oftentimes without the support of her community, because, again, she was a woman and she would get heat from her own community. Why don’t you just behave? You know what I’m saying? That’s a true thing that happened. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah.

Andra Day So, I think to know her as truly a hero and a great godmother of the reinvigorated civil rights movement, that’s how I want people to remember her. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And I mean, given the relevancy of everything we’re talking about in this current day and age, it’s not an easy time for Black folks in this country right now. It really never has been. 

Andra Day No.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And in a lot of ways this horror is no less real than when she was singing Strange Fruit and being targeted for it. How do you see Billie’s legacy living on today in music like yours and in this movement for Black lives across the globe? 

Andra Day I mean, you know, Lee puts this really concisely to that, like, if she could stand up to the government, then — then we — we have — at that time with no resources right, you know what i mean? Then we absolutely have to. But I think another part of that is to talk about these things like the other day, you know, I haven’t posted about and I’m going to but I was so exhausted, like I wanted to post about Daunte Wright but I was like, ugh, you know what I mean? Just like it’s — it’s painful. It’s fucking heartbreaking and painful and exhausting. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  It is.

Andra Day And it just feels like putting up a social media post is just like, are we creating a trend? Is this just a trend are we — what’s the difference? Like what’s happening? But I realize, I’m like, but it’s holistic. And think about it this way. If we get, like, fatigued on it, imagine how our ancestors felt as well too, imagine how Billie felt you know what I mean? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah.

Andra Day On down to you know Medgar Evers, to Assata. You know, we saw with Malcolm X, to Angela, you know. So, I just remember thinking, like, okay, it might feel like it’s not making that much of a difference, but it does all matter. So, I think she would tell us to continue and also to continue to tell our stories. You know? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham When you talk about telling our stories, the reality is that the film did not shy away from the trauma of Billie’s life or of Black life at the time. And I mean, if we’re keeping it a buck, then the heaviness of that trauma then and now can make it overwhelming for Black folks to watch films that deal with this honestly.

Andra Day Absolutely. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Because we’re experiencing all of that trauma in real life right now. Were you concerned about that at all? 

Andra Day Totally. I was concerned about it and so was Lee. You know, I understand when people say like, ugh, no Black trauma porn, you know what I mean? And no, like, you know, and I understand it. But I think from my sort of perspective and the perspective of the movie, it was like, I don’t like this idea that the narrative of history, if we decide not to talk about these things, that the narrative of history is controlled by white supremacy. And I don’t want that. The other thing is — so, two things, and this is so layered. So I love the question because it’s so layered. You know, we — when we’re telling stories about our leaders or our people, we almost have a need to protect them. Like, okay, if they did something like, for instance, she was an addict or whatever, we want to shy away from those things. But I’m like, but that’s not fair for us. That’s us telling each other or feeding into this idea that we can’t be complex, we can’t have layers, we can’t have things that we experience or that we go through. We can’t have shortcomings. White folks do it all the time. You know what I’m saying? Like every time they tell their stories, they just wallow in the case, here’s us and everything we do and everything, and y’all should want to know about it, and da da da. You know what I mean? Like, no problem. That’s great. But I’m like a person. I’m like, I want everything raw, you know what I mean? She struggled with addiction, I want that. Also this idea that, like, you know, some people were like, well, we don’t want to see her get beat, but I’m like, but women were abused, you know what I mean? And that’s my thing is like, you don’t want to see it because it’s troubling just the way. But are we being like people who didn’t want to hear a song about lynching? And that’s the thing where I’m like, I understand it, but I think it takes people things like you need to know the depth of someone’s struggle truthfully, you know what I mean? Not sugar coating it, because that’s America’s technique. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Right. 

Andra Day And the breadth of their contribution. Because the other thing is, before hidden figures, I didn’t know three Black women were responsible for getting us to space and programming the first computer. Or that Carver was not just somebody who made peanut butter, but he actually saved the entire American economy during the depression. Or that a slave was responsible for getting us our very independence as a nation. So I need to know the contribution as well. And the triumph, how we have become this amazingly strong people through all that. And then I want to see the innovation. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah.

Andra Day Us killing it in all of these different spaces. So to me, I’m like they approach that holistically. So we got to approach this. So I totally feel people and I know that was long winded, but yeah.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham No, but I think that’s real. And I — before I let you go, I want to double click on this idea of Black innovation and innovation period, because it’s been six years since Oscars So White took off. 

Andra Day Yeah, has it been six years? That is crazy. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I know time passes quickly and slowly. 

Andra Day I thought, oh like two years ago. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I know it feels like it was just two years ago, but it was six years ago. Right? And it is taken even longer for these conversations about equity and representation and righteous representation, layered representation to really take root in a place like Hollywood. In a matter of days, you will walk into that ceremony where Black performers are nominated in nearly every acting category. But how much further do you feel like the industry has to go to make sure that those layered stories are being told? 

Andra Day Listen, first of all, it starts way before the Oscars, right? you know what I mean, like there needs to be resources afforded to us and creating our own because I’m very much believing that Tulsa shit is what I call it, that passing hands. Because as we know, wealth, money, passing hands. I think it was like six times right in the community before it ever left. So that was one of the wealthiest communities in the nation, you know what I mean? So creating it also, but also just as the industry, if you want to be an ally, then it’s in supporting the resources to creating platforms so that these stories can be told. So and, you know, as you said, sort of the righteous representation, you know? Not needing to control the narrative and control, you know, like allow the space for people who represent different communities to represent those different communities. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. 

Andra Day And then there’s even nuance in that. So it starts before that. And I also think it’s a mindset thing as well. Right? I think people go, wow, Black performers are nominated in every category. And this is amazing. And it is, it’s an amazing feat by work, by people like you and us and Viola and everybody who’s been in the business, who’s been grinding for so long. And we should celebrate these things. But when I say the comment of like, oh, it should be all Black people, well, why would it be that? You know what I mean? I’m like, okay, but why not? It’s been all white people for a long time. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Sure has.

Andra Day So just the idea that those categories, every single one could be filled with all minorities is not such a foreign idea. It’s life. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham It’s not at all. Yeah, it’s not at all a foreign idea, that is imagination that we deserve. And now you’re headed to the Oscars. I mean, there is really no slowing down for you, and you recently dropped a new single Phone Dies, it is so soulful. What’s next for you? What’s coming up in that imagination of yours? 

Andra Day So we released that, the album comes in June, but also I’m going to be doing some stuff with Lee again. And there’s some projects that came in that I think are really interesting. You know, again, just beautifully layered. Just — I don’t want to say I feel like I have to explain layers like —

Brittany Packnett Cunningham We get it. 

Andra Day Just Black women, you know what i mean? Just like — so more stories like that. I think I’ll kind of be in this space a little bit more. Honestly girl, I’m a very spiritual person, so I would say whatever, wherever the Lord leads me. Where God leads me.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Wherever the Lord leads.

Andra Day Yes.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I’m feeling you on that. Well, we are rooting for the Lord to lead you up there on that stage that night with that golden statue.

Andra Day Thank you.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Congratulations again. And we hope we get another video of you and our good sis’ Regina hugging, because they gave us all the joy we needed.

Andra Day Yes. We definitely have to do that again. Thank you so much sis’. God bless you  too, I appreciate you so much. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Thank you. 

Andra Day Thank you. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  Andra Day is a Grammy nominated singer and Oscar nominated actress, she stars in the new film The United States Vs. Billie Holiday. Yeah, we need more stories of complex, imperfect, beautiful Black women. There are so many narratives for us to take back and to create. And to Andra’s point, we can’t shy away from showing the full breadth of our history and who we are in our raw, honest truth. Black women may appear to be magical, but we are also real and multilayered. Or simply put, we’re human like Billie, like everyone. There’s tragedy and triumph in all our lives. We shouldn’t be afraid to embrace that, especially knowing that our authenticity can help liberate others and challenge systems that would rather keep us one note. So bring on the innovation. And here’s to living in our full color, on screen and definitely in our daily lives. 

That’s it for today, but y’all know, never for tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Matlow. 

Our associate producer is Taylor Hosking. 

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen and Hannis Brown.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me @MsPackyetti on all social media and our fantastic team @TheMeteor.  

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Thanks for listening, thanks for being, and thanks for doing. 

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.