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Andra Day and Roxane Gay on 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday,' Addiction & Race in America | THR Talks

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In the premiere episode of 'THR Talks,' actress and singer Andra Day and New York Times best-selling author and cultural commentator Roxane Gay sat down ahead of the 2021 Academy Awards to discuss Day’s Oscar-nominated performance in 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday.' The pair had a wide-ranging discussion about the film, addiction, and race relations in America.

Video Transcript

ANDRA DAY: If it was that important for them to control the narrative and to lie about our stories, it's got to be that important for us to tell the truth. And as I said before, I think that the only thing that can dismantle a system of oppression is truth.


ROXANE GAY: I am sure you've had a busy day today, Andra. How are you doing?

ANDRA DAY: I'm great. Busy doing this. So this is the important stuff. It's been good. It's been really good. Yeah. Thank you so much.

ROXANE GAY: Good. I was watching the movie, and thinking about art and artists, and how oftentimes it seems like suffering makes someone's art better or brings a dimension to it that we don't seem to find in other ways. Do you think that Billie Holiday's suffering is what made her such an amazing artist?

ANDRA DAY: Yeah. I mean, I think that's part of it. I'd like to be like, no. She could have done it without suffering because of her. But yeah. Of course. It's a part of art. And it's just reflecting. It's reflections. Reflective of the times and of our experiences. And I know it's a harrow sometimes. It's healing. Also I think that music's design is healing at its core. I'll never forget about this scripture I read about waters could only be healed with someone playing the lyre.

And so implies that there's something to heal from. And so I think that yeah. That was a part of her music because it was a part of her story and a part of her narrative and a part of what was challenging for her, but also strengthened her. There is something to it. But I don't think it's a darkness. I think it's a healing from that pain that really makes art burst from pain feel potent and so powerful.

ROXANE GAY: We tend to think of pain as dark. And we don't necessarily know what's on the other side.


ROXANE GAY: One of the things that we saw throughout the movie was that Billie Holiday struggled, like many people, with addiction. And that was not yet-- and at the same time, that wasn't really the whole of her story. And so what did you do as an actor to get to know her beyond just what we knew about the worst of her life?

ANDRA DAY: I have to say that my research and my getting to know her beyond that really started actually before even becoming an actor in this movie. I've been a fan since I was 11 years old. So I'd started with her music and then went into her relationship with her band members, and then the story about her life and where she was born, or possibly born. It's likely she was born in Philly and raised in Baltimore. Her losing her father to Jim Crow, because no hospitals would take him. Her being raised in a brothel.

So my study of her is just years long. It goes way back. And I think in that study of her, you find out about her addiction. And I think in the study of addiction, we find out about mental illness and trauma, which are the underlying causes of addiction. Addiction is a way to remedy in a way, to cope in a way, to heal. We take medicine for headaches and we take different things. So that is used as a way to stave off the pain, and actually very physiologically speaking, to stave off dope sickness when you first [INAUDIBLE]. Dope sickness can actually kill you. So there is that desperation there.

And then in the study of addiction and the study of mental illness, you have to study the intersectionality of race [INAUDIBLE] too and how Black people have been portrayed in this realm, how we've been criminalized. And when you look at drug addicts as criminals, then you're forced to face race because you see, huh, interestingly enough, when I look at drug addicts and their criminality, I often see Black and brown faces.

And so then you go, OK. You look at the war on drugs. So it's sort of this evolving thing that you begin to see this huge fractal of really oppression and the intention to criminalize Black bodies, which dates all the way back to the Emancipation. And so and then you fast forward to the opioid addiction of now. And you go, wow. Now that opioids seem to be affecting more young white children, the narrative has changed. I saw an article a few years ago that showed a young white girl's face that said, the new innocent face of addiction. Or the new innocent victim of addiction, or something like that. Or the new victim of-- something along those lines. Victim. Innocent.

And so yeah. You begin to realize it would almost have been impossible for her not to have been an addict.


ANDRA DAY: Yeah, exactly.

ROXANE GAY: When you look at everything she was dealing with, not only with her past, but the way in which the FBI had targeted her, and I think went about it in a really criminal way, it's interesting to see where we are today where we're still seeing this drug war play out. As you know, now that white people are being affected, all of a sudden they're innocent whereas in general, Black and brown drug users are inherently criminal. It's interesting to see that it's been more than half a decade and nothing really has changed, at least for Black and brown people.

Did that impact the way that you portrayed her in this role, thinking about sort of how history is also part of our present day?

ANDRA DAY: Yes. Absolutely. And I would like to also bring up, you had mentioned that the FBI sort of did it in a criminal way. The FBI does everything in a criminal way. That is the nature of the FBI. And I think that that's something that really, really needs to be dealt with in the nation as well too. The source of that, J Edgar Hoover being the source of that. This was a man who was incredibly racist and who was incredibly just homophobic, and sexist, and all of these things.

So everything was gone about just the procuring of information of intel. I don't even know if you could call it intel. It's literally, I mean, it's like sanctioned social media stalking but with all of the access. You know what I mean? It's like-- so yeah. That to just sort of say that. But yes. Absolutely that had an impact.

Not now, we filmed it at the end of 2019. So this is pre George Floyd. And so everybody asks about the relevance. It was pre George Floyd, but this was not pre Kalief Browder. This was not pre Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland. This was not pre Malcolm X, let alone all the back to [INAUDIBLE]. This is not pre them. But yes. There is a relevance here today. And then when it comes to drugs and race, as you said, it's affecting more white kids.

But we don't even have to go back half a decade, or a decade, or to Billie Holiday's time to see that. I think we're seeing a really great-- it's not great. I hate to use that term. I just for lack of a better word. Seeing a great really crystallizing example of it right now. The opioid epidemic is considered a epidemic because it is affecting white kids. Yet again though, it stopped being an epidemic during the George Floyd case, during the [INAUDIBLE] as we're speaking right now. It became criminalized yet again. It became used against George Floyd in this case who-- so now he was an opioid addict.

And so that's being used against him. And he's being portrayed as a criminal and as problematic and as troubling. And in the same breath, at the same time period, just right across the nation, it's an epidemic. So again, this sort of puts it in our face like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. It's not like, well, in the '40s, we weren't sure. Well, now in the '50s, and the '60s, and the-- we are here right now in 2021 and there are the two different portrayals of addiction to the same drug. You know what I mean? To the same types of drugs.

So absolutely. I think first of all, it speaks to how we need to change the way we look at addiction. And it needs to be treated as a mental illness. And we need to speak very, very honestly about race when it comes to addiction, justice when it comes to addiction, and to acknowledge that yes, this is something that has been used against Black people and people of color to criminalize and monetize ultimately their bodies.

ROXANE GAY: The prison industrial complex is predicated on abusing Black bodies and profiting off of them. And it seems like nobody in power is willing to have that conversation even though that conversation desperately needs to be had. And we actually can see some of that playing out right now with the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis as we hope that there will be some measure of justice even though--

ANDRA DAY: I forgot to say Derek Chauvin, not the George Floyd--

ROXANE GAY: Yeah. I knew what you meant. But the reality is George Floyd actually is on trial even though he's dead.

ANDRA DAY: Unbelievably so but painfully so. You know what I mean?

ROXANE GAY: Yeah. And it's outrageous. It's ridiculous. I can't even believe-- I mean, I'm all for the justice-- not all for the justice system, but due process, whatever. But it's truly outrageous that we have video. We know what this man did. Why are we talking about it?

ANDRA DAY: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I agree with you, you know what I mean, for due process. But we actually got to change what due process is. It's again very--

ROXANE GAY: Because due process has never really served us at all.

ANDRA DAY: Never. It's never-- so those things have to be gutted. And I think that's the very difficult part for people is they realize that your nation's foundations have to be unthreaded so that we can actually sew a new equal fabric that's really based on principles of justice, of equality, of the greater good ultimately. So it's difficult reconciling, I guess, for a lot of people.

ROXANE GAY: Do you think it's possible for us to get to this place where we rethink justice and really unravel a lot of the foundations of this country?

ANDRA DAY: I do. You know what I mean? I absolutely do. And I have to. That comes from my faith perspective. I have to believe it's possible. And so I have to continue to work, and continue to speak, and function, and operate as if it is possible. Because if I begin to accept that it's never possible, then I-- even from a spiritual perspective, we talk about sort of the-- it's a spiritual perspective and even a scientific one with entropy, thermodynamics, everything sort of devolve into a lesser form.

I still think we have to hold out hope for those triumphs and those victories in the in between. And yeah I do. I see a lot of hope in mine and in the younger generation. Really they're just like, I put this [INAUDIBLE]. You know what I mean? So there's something really nice about that that goes, we want to be free. You know what I mean? We want to love people. We want to have a world that is focused on loving each other in peace.

So yeah. I do think there has to be-- I think truth is going to be a huge, huge, huge part of that. And I think the reason this Billie Holiday story is resonating with people so much is that she represented truth. "Strange Fruit", the song represented truth in a system that is built on deception and controlling the narrative and suppressing the narrative, and lies. So I think that's the way. If it's built on lies, then truth is probably the only thing that can dismantle it.

ROXANE GAY: I agree. And it was clear that truth is definitely dangerous because of the ways the United States tried to suppress the song and keep her from singing it. And one of the things the movie really brought out for me was that she had this streak of social justice in her, and was interested in standing up against oppression and using art for political ends.

And so why do you think it's taken so long for us to be able to recognize that she had all of this social justice work in her and she really used her music to fight for the greater good?

ANDRA DAY: I mean, it's taken so long because it was meant to never be known. So it's not like we just were like, eh, we're not really worried about her. You know what I mean? For lack of a better term, this is what Hoover did. This is what Harry J. Anslinger did. And that has everything to do with controlling the narrative.

Billie Holiday was globally famous on the Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday. She was incredibly famous. But she was using her platform to speak out about racial terror reaching the American. And she was going to bring audiences. She was using her voice to sort of push legislation. The Emmett Till Anti Lynching bill, which [INAUDIBLE]. So the reality is we didn't know because we weren't supposed to know. You know what I mean? We didn't know because textbooks are designed to continue white supremacy, you know what I mean, in schools, in colleges.

And we didn't know because we were never supposed to know. We didn't know about-- I don't know about "Hidden Figures" because we weren't supposed to know. You know what I mean? I didn't know for a long time that Black people were kept in zoos. I didn't know that a slave netted us our independence as a nation in his brave act. You know what I mean? So we were never ever truly supposed to know [INAUDIBLE] because she was a threat to a system of racial inequality that was being built and cultivated at the time to white supremacy.

So we were only supposed to know her as a tragic drug addict who wasted her life on drugs, which could not be further from the truth. And the reality is Billie Holiday wasn't, I don't think that she was stepping in to be, I'm going to be a hero of civil rights. She was just a human. You hear her talk about it very matter of factly. I mean, she's like, well, it's not right, man. You know what I mean? She's just like, you shouldn't be lynching people. People should not be segregated. We should not be treated unfairly. And there should be racial equality.

And so she was a very empathetic person. And I don't think it was just a choice to put her [INAUDIBLE]. I don't think she had a choice. If she wanted [INAUDIBLE] a free, Black, queer woman, that alone was a huge challenge to the system. You know what I mean? So she was just being a beautifully empathetic person. And that made her a hero as Black woman often are when they are themselves.

ROXANE GAY: Absolutely. White supremacy does try to keep a lot of important historical knowledge from us. So where do you go to educate yourself beyond what we're taught in schools and what we're taught in the mainstream media?

ANDRA DAY: I mean, fortunately, we have the advent of the internet though you have to vet a lot of things that you read on the internet, but-- which is, again, that's another really tricky thing. Because it's like, hey, you can't believe everything you hear on the internet. And then I go test my information against this encyclopedia or whatever. But I'm like, but you forget. Those things are dictated by white people, by the overarching white [INAUDIBLE]. So it's weird. Even what we would test the accuracy of information against is all based off of the standards of a white male patriarchy, you know what I mean, and that narrative, and what--

I often see people that will talk about Black stories and say, that's not true because I looked at the Library of Congress. And I'm like, well, that could be your first mistake. You know what I mean? So I think it is honestly, it is a merry go round of research, you know what I mean, between what would be official websites, documents, books, outlets, publications, governmental pieces, and then also questioning those things and going, all right. Those things had an agenda.

So oftentimes for me, it comes from reading the books of my ancestors. It comes from reading those stories. Reading Angela Davis' work and her research, reading Assata Shakur's work, and her research, and her life experience. Listening to our grandparents and then doing research of what they're telling us against things that we know have happened or-- so I mean, it's books from our culture, poetry from our culture. People who were there oftentimes are the things that I find the most informative.

And also for me, I know this sounds really crazy because unfortunately, people's experience with God or with Christ-- I am a person of deep faith. But unfortunately, the people who seem to have the microphone and are the loudest right now are those with the most prejudice, the most sort of bigoted, and full of sort of judgment, and hatred. But I pray a lot about it for wisdom constantly, wisdom about women, wisdom about Black people, wisdom about LGBTQ2S plus community, wisdom about how to get information, and to understand people, and to celebrate them, and to help support their causes.

And I'm led often to really, really great sources of information from people who are on the ground. I think that's a more accurate way. But it is-- this idea that's like, we'll read one book and we'll get it. No, we got to research this. And we have to really pine for our history and for the truth of our experience.

ROXANE GAY: Absolutely. It's funny. I have a podcast. And my co-host and I were talking today about how you can't get all of your information from a single book because everything is incomplete. And it's up to us to get the whole picture or to flesh out a picture. And so yeah. We do have to [INAUDIBLE].

ANDRA DAY: It's sort of like semantics as well too. You know what I'm saying? Just words and how things are portrayed. We just did the "Soul of a Nation" thing. And I think it's using your common sense to understand, OK. If I know the definition of this word and this thing that I know to be the definition of this word is being described in this way, often right when white men commit terrorism in America, and it's just the ways that they describe it. [INAUDIBLE] Or it's just described as murder, or it's not described as a hate crime. It's not--

ROXANE GAY: Right. Or a lone wolf. Or--

ANDRA DAY: Or a lone wolf.


ANDRA DAY: Exactly. You know what I mean? And so one of the things that stood out to me recently, we just did "Soul of a Nation". I think even for us as a people, it sounds very nuanced and almost like, ugh, we don't need to pay attention to that. But I think we do. I do not like-- "Soul of a Nation" was such an amazing program. And I'm so glad they talked about the Tulsa, Oklahoma Black Wall Street. It gets in me when I hear people refer to Tulsa as a race riot. Because a riot implies two sides.

And so it's also common sense. That was not a riot. That was a massacre. That was a genocide. That was a Holocaust. You murdered of an entire city of people. You know what I mean? You're bombing and you're killing them. So it's also paying attention to those little details about how you describe things, what we engage in. So it's all very, very nuanced and kind of cyclical for me.

ROXANE GAY: It is. And unfortunately, we live in a culture that does not always appreciate nuance and does not appreciate taking the time to think about language. Because language, and I'm a writer so of course I think this, but language really does matter. And the ways in which we talk about Black history in particular matter. Because when it's framed from a position of white supremacy, it seems one way. And then when it's framed from a position of actual reality, it's framed a completely different way.

ANDRA DAY: Yeah. I always reference my young cousin. I was taking care of him when he was here. And in his textbook, because textbooks are also framed from not just white culture, but white supremacy. That is where they come from. You know what I mean? So and then often the biggest manufacturer of textbooks is Texas. You know what I mean? So think about that agenda there alone and has always been, I think. I believe. I might be wrong about that, but--

ROXANE GAY: No, I think you're right. Texas has a ridiculous stronghold on the textbook industry. And they actually dictate a lot of the curricula children across the country learn, including curriculums, curricula really, that try to make slavery seem like, oh, it was just a bad day. It was [INAUDIBLE].

ANDRA DAY: [INAUDIBLE] said in my young cousin's textbook. And I told him, I was like, I'mma call your teacher. Put that book down. I'll teach you history about slavery. But in the book, it says, slavery, a difficult situation. It was like-- and the book, all but did everything it could to paint the slaves as lazy and complaining about having to work hard in the hot sun. That was like, when you see stuff like that, you go, we have to pay attention to the details. Because the details are what's going to dictate to future generations what actually happened, you know what I mean, now and in the past. So yes. I agree with you 100% there.

ROXANE GAY: I think one of the best ways that we can continue to teach young people, to teach people of all ages for that matter, is through stories. And we see stories like this. Why do you think it's important that we tell stories like this and that the right people tell stories like this?

ANDRA DAY: I think because, first of all if you don't tell stories like this, then you cannot actually move forward. You can't progress as a society, as a culture. You can't heal. And if you can't heal and you can't get better, ultimately you destroy yourself. You know what I mean? So it is integral to survival in my opinion.

So we can't grow to racial equality if we're not telling the truth. We have to understand that if it was that important to them at the time to sort of slaveholders on down to the Hoovers and the Anslingers of the world, and to the Reagans, if it was that important for them to control the narrative and to lie about our stories, then it's got to be that important for us to tell the truth. And as I said before, I think that the only thing that can dismantle a system of oppression is truth, is--

Because that for future generations, it goes well, how can I be mad at Black people if a Black person helped America become an independent nation? If the sacrifice-- Lafayette, I'm not recalling his entire name. So you have to kind of check me on that. But him infiltrating the enemy camp and re-rallying the troops, you know what I mean, as a spy, that is such a dangerous act. He was willing to give up his life for people that enslaved him, that enslaved--

So when you know the truth about that, I think it's harder to go, I can't hate that guy. You know what I'm saying? I'm only here or doing this because of him, or that our American economy would have been destroyed if it was not for the contributions of Carver. You know what I mean?

So I think that you have to truly know the-- it's harder to hate someone. You still can. But it is harder to hate someone when you have access to the depth of their struggle, of their contribution, and of their triumph. And that's the only way we can actually move forward, is by telling the truth about these things. And it's funny because I know there are sort of younger generations that are like, we don't want to hear stories about this and these-- but we need both. We need the stories of the truth of the past. And we need the struggles and the triumphs. And we need the innovations of the future, you know what I mean?

That convergence is where we glow and we grow is what I like to say.

ROXANE GAY: So the movie has done very well. And you won the Golden Globe. Congratulations. How do you process that kind of acclaim? Are you competitive? Do you want these kinds of recognitions?

ANDRA DAY: I'm probably the opposite of that a little bit. I am extremely appreciative, very, very appreciative. And I'm going to work hard in whatever it is that I do. That's how my father raised me. And then as I say, my Father in heaven. That is it's a standard. I always think about this scripture that talks about, don't-- it discourages competition. And I love that. You know what I mean? Because competition is a very much a human nature type of thing. We believe that we have to do this in order to survive, that there's not space for everyone.

But the reality is if we're here, there is space for everyone. And it's so impossible for us to envision because we've believed so long that there's not. But there's a scripture that says, don't work as if working unto man, to beat man. But work as if working unto the Lord, which is a much higher standard and self accountability. And that's a whole performance thing, not just a production, but integrity, accountability, you know what I'm saying, and how you're affecting people as you're doing the work.

And so, and to me, this thrashes this idea that you and I are in competition, especially when it comes to Black women. So I'm going to work hard. To me, even when I look at my fellow nominees, I don't say they're my competitors. These are my fellow nominees. And we're sharing this space together. And we're representing different stories. And these stories are being brought to light and being celebrated. So and as far as continuing in it, I'll probably do a little more acting. But I look forward to hitting the background, and doing some writing, and developing. There's a couple of things I'm developing right now that I [INAUDIBLE].

So yeah. I don't know. I don't think too much about it. I just try to stay spiritually grounded.

ROXANE GAY: What kind of writing do you do?

ANDRA DAY: Well, obviously music and poetry. And right now, what it is is screenwriting. So--

ROXANE GAY: Oh, fantastic.

ANDRA DAY: Yeah. No. And I'm new. So I don't have any sort of misconceptions about, I am just going to dive in and get it right. I'm really-- I write everything the same way I write lyrics or poetry. I dump everything out, every single idea, every, every, every, research, research, research, dump, dump, dump, dump, dump, dump. And then I began to form and I begin to craft it from there. So I'm in that phase of sort of dumping everything right now, trying out ideas.

It's actually a limited series that I'm working on, and trying out different ideas of these visions that I have for how it would open. But ultimately, I want to get with a great, great experienced screenwriter. I just want to get all these ideas out so that we can have conversations about where we want to take it and the perspective that we want to tell it from, what my vision is for it. So to me, collaboration. I want these stories told. I don't need to be the one to tell it top to bottom. I want great people who are experienced, and who are Black, and who are preferably female, but also allies as well.

And I just want to tell these stories. So yes. That's the writing I'm doing right now.

ROXANE GAY: Excellent. Do you have a specific-- or can you talk about the specific project you're working on?

ANDRA DAY: I cannot yet. I would love to. And I cannot wait actually to talk to you about it. So we were acquiring the rights as we speak right now, and then working with this person. And I've gotten a bunch of research and stuff from them. So I've started. But we're still in the process of acquiring the rights. So I can't yet. But once we lock that down, then I definitely will. Because it's been something that's been on my heart for years. And I am grateful to God because I believe that God has sort of exponentially--

And that's really how I look at this. It's a blessing. But what it does is just increase the platform so that way I can tell stories about marginalized people and also give a voice and create a platform for marginalized people to tell their own stories as well. So that's the goal ultimately.

ROXANE GAY: That's a great goal. I think a lot of people-- fortunately, we're in a great moment where a lot of people are trying to do that, a lot of Black people in particular. And I think also other people of color. Because I think sometimes that's the only way we're going to create change is by sharing platforms, and bringing other people along with us, and seeing what they do on their own.

ANDRA DAY: Absolutely. I think it's the idea of passing hands, really. That's how Black Wall Street became Black Wall Street. I think it was-- was it six or eight times? I don't know if you can recall offhand. But money passed hands in the community I think similar to the Jewish community passed hands six or eight times. I can't remember exactly. But something along those lines. Money passed hands I'll just say six times in the community before it ever left the community. So there was this very, very clear awareness of investing in self and in each other, and so and creating spaces for us to be great and to excel. You know what I mean?

So I think that, to me I call it-- I will say that [INAUDIBLE] you know what I'm saying? That Black Wall Street [INAUDIBLE]. You know what I mean? I think that's truly the only way we're going to see it. That's how they became one of the wealthiest communities in the nations. So I think-- and why they were [INAUDIBLE]. So yeah. We need to see that definitely now.

ROXANE GAY: Who are some of the political, or artistic, or other voices that have really stood out to you in this moment and that you're interested in doing that Tulsa [INAUDIBLE] with?

ANDRA DAY: Of course people from my community, I started sort of with the artists of my community, there's rappers, and just some singers. Jemma Nell, Truth from Southeast San Diego where I'm from, Ryan Anthony, Marty McFly, Ryan Christ Colston, you know, Mitchie Slick just people that are from my neighborhood, who were also who I went to high school with. Joshlyn who has a juice truck. She's trying to get healthy food and healthy juice into the community. It's called the Write Juice, W-R-I-T-E. The Write Juice.

So it really first starts supporting those businesses. And supporting them by giving voice to them, making people aware of these businesses. And then just making sure also as I work with people, I have people from multiple different ethnicities and backgrounds on my team. But really being targeted and focused about hiring and working with Black talent. But yeah. There's people I've done work actually with the amazing Michelle Obama. So I feel like I could just stop right there.

ROXANE GAY: Yeah, I mean that's a mic drop. That covers it.

ANDRA DAY: Yeah. A little bit of a flex. I wasn't really meaning to be. But just sort of making music and using my platform to bolster, not really bolster, I mean, she doesn't need. But to be available for her efforts and what she's doing as far as educating girls, not just girls of color, but girls all over the world who are bring denied education. That was what the Let Girls Learn Campaign. I mean, Stacey Abrams is another one as well too.

ROXANE GAY: She's incredible.

ANDRA DAY: Yeah. She really is. I mean, these voter suppression laws that they're [INAUDIBLE]. It is a direct--

ROXANE GAY: My God, that's how you know she's powerful. They literally are redoing the laws to try and hem her up.

ANDRA DAY: This is where I go back. This is where I go back right to Billie Holiday. That is the same DNA. That is why they had to shut her up. You know what I mean? Because she emboldens, she is the DNA that is in Stacey Abrams. That is a direct response to Stacy Abrams registering millions of voters. You know what I'm saying? And there's nothing unlawful. You can't prove she did anything unlawful. Because she didn't. She just did the right thing. And so someone said in an interview not too long ago that said, you would think the government had better things to do than--

Or you'd think the FBI had more important things to do than to go after Billie Holiday. So well, that depends on your goals are to continue white supremacy, racial oppression, systemic inequality. So if those are your goals, then Stacey Abrams got to go. Right? Billie Holiday got to go. Those are so-- that is absolutely dangerous. I'm so inspired by her and her efforts.

ROXANE GAY: And what they don't realize is she can outthink them every single day of the week. So whatever they come up with, people in Georgia are going to-- I mean, this kind of thing emboldens Black people.

ANDRA DAY: It does. Really it does.

ROXANE GAY: Now we're going to vote extra.

ANDRA DAY: Yeah and I think it emboldens. And the other thing that it does, which I think is really slight and we got to pay attention to, is those people who are on the fence. They shouldn't be. But they are on the fence. Stacey Abrams can outthink them because she's operating in truth and she's operating in love and in light. So if you're on the fence morally, you've got those people who are kind of on the fence morally because, well, this is what I'm used to. This is-- when you see people who are blatantly lying and blatantly manipulating, and then you see someone like her who is just caring about the community and serving, it kind of goes like, ugh. I can't ignore the fact that she is doing this.

And so there's also that slight line of people as well too. You know what I mean? And there's also my own councilwomen, Lorena Gonzalez also Monica Montgomery who is now the assemblywoman in San Diego. And so just their efforts to rebuild infrastructure in neighborhoods where I grew up in Southeast San Diego in Black and brown neighborhoods and dealing with homelessness there.

So there's so many people, I think, that are doing just such incredible things that I'd love to just work with and be part of, and some that I'm already engaged with. So it's great.

ROXANE GAY: Absolutely. There's a lot, I think, happening that's really thrilling. It's sad that some of the work that they do is necessary.


ROXANE GAY: Here in Los Angeles, there-- well, I normally live in LA. I'm in New York at the minute. But they have the People City Council, which is doing some incredible work of basically they created a city council that serves actual people instead of political ambitions. And it's so good. It's so good. And every time I see some of their actions, and the ways that they're standing up to the mayor, and really challenging traditional political power and how it works in LA, I just think the kids, they're OK. They've got this.

ANDRA DAY: They going to be good. You know what I'm saying?

ROXANE GAY: We just need to get out of their way. They are OK.

ANDRA DAY: Yeah. We just need to support. You know what I'm saying? They going to be all right. They get it, definitely. Yeah, absolutely.

ROXANE GAY: So we're coming out of the pandemic, hopefully. And it's been a year. What was that year like for you? Were you able to be creative during that year?

ANDRA DAY: A little bit. Not as much as I would have liked to be on certain fronts because of the music. But interestingly enough, I was inspired. And so I was writing-- I started writing a lot more poetry again. And so just documenting what it is I was feeling, especially because I was just coming off the heels of "Billie Holiday". And that had a real, real impact on my life and how I perceive things and how I operated.

So I think it was just a really reflection. You know what I mean? And preparation. I think it also did, I will say, just reminding me that I am blessed. I think it was very easy to sit around and say, oh my God. This is so hard. Oh my God. This is so-- but I live in Los Angeles. I live in a five bedroom home. I live in-- I am blessed. There are people who are choosing between food and between shelter for figuring out how to parse meals between their kids.

So that's a different thing. There are people newly homeless because of this pandemic. So I think it's sort of, the creativity was more like, how can we help? And that's when we had teamed up with Give Directly last year. Because I was like, I don't want to make a big splash. I just want to figure out how we can just help people. As you had said, just how do we get to people and help people?

So and then it was reflective for me as well too. It gave me a little bit of time to just breathe. Even though I stayed in "Billie Holiday" for 2020 because we start pick up shots and whatever, we felt we could at least be her at my house, you know what I mean, in sort of the place. So yeah. It was definitely reflection, finding my spiritual grounding again, and preparation, gratitude, just yeah. So reflection was huge for me. Definitely.

ROXANE GAY: What are you looking ahead to as the pandemic lifts, and we all get vaccinated, and life hopefully returns to a different kind of normal that maybe isn't as messed up as the previous normal?

ANDRA DAY: Right. What am I looking for? Well, first thing I'm looking forward to is vacation. I'm about to travel. I'm going to head somewhere and take a little bit of a break. You know what I mean?

ROXANE GAY: I know that's right.

ANDRA DAY: But yeah. I mean, I think seeing family again, seeing-- just connecting with people. I think a big thing-- and I think God used this role to make me braver in a lot of ways. So I'd like more opportunities to-- because before, if something made me uncomfortable, I'd try to figure out a way out of it. So I'm looking forward to in person, showing up and saying, yes, being present or certain opportunities and things that come along and just seeing what happens.

Yeah. I'm hoping as far as socially, that we kind of hit the ground running. You know what I mean? We go into [INAUDIBLE] communities that need the most help and that we keep our posture of healing and of service and pay attention not just to what is it we want to see. We need to do the-- taking care of ourselves as well too. But I think a part of taking care of ourselves has to do with service. It's sort of like, all right. Let's still acknowledge that a lot of people were hit pretty hard during the pandemic. Let's make sure they're good. You know what I mean?

ROXANE GAY: Absolutely.

ANDRA DAY: Now how can we have these conversations about social justice, about equality, about economic equality you moving forward? But we need to kind of give those [INAUDIBLE]. Unfortunately, [INAUDIBLE] is our community. [INAUDIBLE].

ROXANE GAY: I agree. And I think a lot of people are going to hit the ground running without leaving anyone behind. Because--

ANDRA DAY: And then just turn up. You know what I'm saying? Everybody just turn the [INAUDIBLE] up and have a good time.

ROXANE GAY: I mean, I have never been more ready. And I'm normally [INAUDIBLE] But no, I'm ready. I am ready to get turnt. I am-- it's here. It's Going to be the summer of [INAUDIBLE]. Let's go.

ANDRA DAY: It's on. It's on and popping. You let me know. Are we in New York? Are we in LA? Where are you?

ROXANE GAY: We're in LA. We're going to enjoy the sun, we're going to have some franks. It's going to be good. It's going to be good. OK, good. I have some just rapid questions. These are lighter questions.


ROXANE GAY: What was your favorite book as a child?

ANDRA DAY: Oh God. What was my favorite book as a child? Oh my goodness. You know what I liked when I was young? I liked a lot of those scary stories. Do you know what I mean? So did you remember that author? He made they're almost like Nickelodeon scary stories. It was like, RL Stine and [INAUDIBLE].

ROXANE GAY: I think RL Stine has written like 150 books.

ANDRA DAY: Yes. I used to love-- and I don't know why because I hate scary movies and scary stories. So I'm this dumb kid reading a book like, oh my God and then have the nerve to 10 minutes later pick it back up like--

ROXANE GAY: Like what happened?

ANDRA DAY: Why would I torture myself?

ROXANE GAY: And when I look back, they were so scary. And when I look back, I'm like, that wasn't really that scary. But as a kid, it was terrifying.

ANDRA DAY: As a kid, it was terrifying. You're reading every single word. So it was happening in your head at the same time. I used to love them books when I was a kid, RL Stine. [INAUDIBLE]. I wish [INAUDIBLE]. I only read Langston Hughes as a child.

ROXANE GAY: I wouldn't believe anyone who said that.

ANDRA DAY: I did. I did. But in my textbook was a little scary RL Stine book.

ROXANE GAY: What did you want to be at that age when you grew up?

ANDRA DAY: Always a singer. Always an entertainer. Always. There was never a plan B. Although I had random moments where I'm like, mom, dad, I think I'm going to be a paleontologist. They'd be like, OK, girl. Just [INAUDIBLE]. So actually, no. I will say at the time, I thought I was going to be a dancer and this prima ballerina. That would be how I'd get into everything. So the diet of a prima ballerina is not one that is conducive to my life. So--

ROXANE GAY: I don't think it's conducive to anyone's life.

ANDRA DAY: No, I was like--

ROXANE GAY: What those young people put themselves through is brutal.

ANDRA DAY: Let me tell you something. People think the athleticism of other sports, there is nothing more savage and more vicious than the world of ballet. There is nothing. Only one swan princess. You know what I mean? So yeah.

ROXANE GAY: What is your favorite social media platform?

ANDRA DAY: Instagram. Because it's the only one I know how to use. Somebody today was like, oh I found Andra Day's TikTok. I says, well, where is that? I was like, I don't have-- or my baby girl here, my cousin, I take care of my young cousin. Baby girl said, she said-- my other young cousin. And so I was like, well, why don't we go live on my TikTok? She said, OK. And then we go in my phone to put it in. She was like, you don't have a TikTok. I was like, [INAUDIBLE].

ROXANE GAY: TikTok it's a lot. I'm just dipping my toe in TikTok. I'm like, I'm 47. 46. I can't do all that. That's just too much work. Who is one person you love to follow on Instagram?

ANDRA DAY: Oh my God. There is this-- Oh Lord, I'm just going to say it because I'm obsessed with her. But there is this trainer, there's this trainer couple. They're a married couple, Kathy Drayton and Luther Freeman. And they know I stalk them on social media. Because I've worked with them before. And I was going to work with them for the movie. But it just didn't work out. And so I got to keep them back. But I obsess over her page because she just has earned her body is such a-- hard work earned her body. Hard work.

Not to knock anybody who goes and gets-- to me, whatever choice, you're beautiful. Women are beautiful. Whatever choice you decide to make with that body, that's yours. You know what I mean? So she's really built her body in the gym. And I'm just like, ugh. Meanwhile, I be on my couch looking at social media, eating chips like, ugh, fine. I'll go do 10 squats. She'll make me do 10 extra little reps. You know what I'm saying? No, I'm obsessed with her though. It's a hard worker. I like people with a work ethic like hers and her husband Luther Freeman, too.

ROXANE GAY: That's impressive. I follow my trainer on Instagram. And I love her even though I hate her when we meet. But [INAUDIBLE]. She literally exercises all day every day. I've never seen anything like it. I'm like, damn.

ANDRA DAY: Why would you really live for this, huh?

ROXANE GAY: [INAUDIBLE] that life. Couldn't be me.

ANDRA DAY: Yeah, to each is own.

ROXANE GAY: What's the best piece of advice you've been given?

ANDRA DAY: The best piece of advice I've been given is really from my parents. And it is to not let fear dictate my decisions. Fear is a liar. You know what I mean? And so to not let fear decide what I'm going to do for me.

ROXANE GAY: OK. And lastly, what do you like most about your work and what you do?

ANDRA DAY: Oh and what I enjoy about my job. I was like, I don't like nothing I produce. No, what do I like most about it? I like-- I like the people. I like people. I do like people. I know that everybody-- yeah, people do some crazy [MUTED] sometimes. But again, I don't want fear of somebody screwing me over to dictate how I interact with people as well too. I like people. And I think that has to do with my faith. It says, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.

I love loving my neighbor. And I love being loved by my neighbor. I like people, their experiences-- it's enriching to meet, most of the time. Even when you meet somebody who you're like, I'm not supposed to engage with them anymore, you're still enriched because now you know that.

ROXANE GAY: It's like a built in warning system.

ANDRA DAY: There you go.


ROXANE GAY: Well, thank you so much for your time this evening. I know how these press days can be. So I appreciate you taking some time out.

ANDRA DAY: Thank you so much, Roxane. You're blessed. And we'll speak soon, though. Definitely.

ROXANE GAY: We will.

ANDRA DAY: Have a good time. Take care. Bye-bye.