While some might consider Day an activist (her single “Rise Up,” for example, has become the unofficial anthem for Black Lives Matter), it’s actually not a term she identifies with. “It’s so funny to hear the word ‘activist’ because I don’t see myself as one,” she chuckles. “I know people would say that probably sounds very clichéd and humble, but not humble, but not me. I want people to know that I love God, and I want people to meet when they meet me. I don’t give myself these ascribed titles, and neither do Billie. It’s all about helping people and serving more than anything. I am a servant. That’s it, and that’s the best way to describe it. In my mind I have this beautiful image of eternity, if only I see myself as higher than ourselves and everyone is loved, valued and cared for. “
God, Day says, was also one of the main reasons she chose to audition for her now award-winning role – a role that both she and the film’s director, Lee Daniels, initially felt had nothing to do with it With. Despite Day’s long-standing love for Holiday, dating back to her teens, she had no professional experience as an actress. She had no acting experience at all except her early years in a performing arts school that did musical theater. “I always knew I wanted to do art and perform, but back then it was more about, ‘Well, do I want to try doing Broadway or do I want to try recording music? ‘“Never, she says, would she ever have believed that she would compete with Hollywood’s elite talent for the most coveted awards in the industry. “I mean, I didn’t want to do this film. I was shocked. I said, “I’m going to do the audition, but I’m going to be awful.” Lee and I, we were forced on each other, ”she laughs.
“But then we started talking, and when I found out the film was going to be focused on the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and like Harry J. Anslinger, J. Edgar Hoover and [Joseph] McCarthy created this targeted drug war to get Billie to stop singing “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching in America. I realized that this film would confirm their legacy. That was very tempting to me. That got me auditioning. “