Hulu’s original film ‘The United States vs Billie Holiday’ saw several storylines unfold that ultimately united to tell the complex, trailblazing story that was the life of iconic songstress & activist Billie Holiday.
The men in the film recently sat down with activist and journalist Jeff Johnson to unpack how Black male masculinity showed up in their character’s stories and how that impacted the roles that each of the real-life men played in Holiday’s life. The discussion also explored how each of the actors prepared for their roles, what about their characters resonated most with them on a personal level and more. Watch the full discussion in the video above.
Keep scrolling for a look at seven things we learned about Black men and masculinity from Trevante Rhodes, Rob Morgan, Tyler James Williams, Miss Lawrence, Tone Bell and Jeff Johnson during the conversation.
Tyler James Williams On Black Men Learning To Love Without Possession
“I think in a lot of ways, what we’re talking about is where Black men, and men in general, are not taught to love without possession and to love without domination. So, I think [the film’s] era of men, and even the modern era of men, don’t know how to separate love from domination.”
Jeff Johnson On Problematic Traditional Norms Around Manhood
“We’ve been told we can’t be full people. Manhood in the traditional sense is, don’t smile too much, or you’re goofy as hell. Don’t laugh too much, or [people will think] you ain’t been there before. Don’t love, because you don’t want nobody to play you. But, all of these things are what makes you human and in fact, having those emotions is what makes you a man and makes you alive.”
Miss Lawrence On How Black Men Show Love
“I think in a lot of ways with men, especially Black men, we’ve had challenges with, or insecurities about, showing our love the way that we should. Especially back in the ’40s and ’50s, men were very hesitant about allowing love to show up in the way that it should, especially as it relates to relationships with women. And, I think a lot of that stems from the false ideologies of patriarchy.”
Rob Morgan On Celebrating Progressive Black Men
“I think it’s about the circles you move in and the people you decide to put that kind of focus on because, there are plenty of brothers out here who are standing with sisters and elevating them and supporting them to the highest degree. So, I think that’s a conversation us as a community need to have, as far as what we choose to recognize because we have tendency to generalize a lot as Black people.”
Photo Credit: Takashi Seida
Trevante Rhodes On Black Men Rooting For Black Women To Win
“My generation of brothers, [a lot of us] grew up with single mothers, so, all I know is strong Black women. That’s what’s fueled me—my mom and my grandmother. So, to see a Black woman be at the forefront of everything is what I want to see. So, it’s a beautiful time right now.”
Tone Bell On The Dynamics Behind “The Chase”
“Because of the way Billie grew up and maybe the lack of being nurtured, that characteristic of what Jimmy was trying to give her, that didn’t exist. [She wasn’t] used that kind of relationship so, she saw that as taking her power away. So, there’s a different kind of willingness for what she can handle. It’s the rough discourse, it’s the verbal abuse, it’s the ‘I can do it all by myself’ and push you away…and then, it’s that chase. And unfortunately, a lot of Black men prefer that chase.”
Miss Lawrence On Redefining Masculinity
“I think we, just as a society, need to really redefine what masculinity is. For so long, masculinity has been reduced to men’s physical; men’s disposition in this world. But it’s not just those things. Masculinity can be very soft, it’s vulnerable, it’s showing love, it’s emotional…it’s all of those things.”