Andra Day thanked Billie Holiday in an emotional Golden Globes acceptance speech, as she became the first Black woman in 35 years to win Best Actress in a Drama.
Day honoured the “transformative, dynamic” jazz singer as she accepted the award for her role in Lee Daniels‘ The United States vs Billie Holiday.
She became only the second Black woman to have ever won the category, and the first in 25 years, who won Best Actress for The Color Purple in 1986.
“That’s another layer of wow,” she told ET. “It’s so exciting, and also heartbreaking at the same time. Because Black women are so dynamic and we have so many amazing, layered stories.”
Day was the surprise winner of the category, beating out Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman).
“I’m in the presence of giants,” she said, tearfully, as she accepted the award from home.
“You inspire me so much.”
Day also praised “the amazing transformative, dynamic, Billie Holiday, who just transformed me with this role, and with her presence and her spirit.”
The United States vs Billie Holiday is Andra Day’s first major acting role.
The actor and singer – best known for her Grammy-nominated single “Rise Up” – revealed ahead of the Golden Globes how close she came to turning down the part because of nerves.
“I do consider myself a deeply spiritual person and so I was doing – it’s funny – I was doing devotion, I was praying to get out of it, I was like, ‘yes, make it go away’,” she told Sky News.
The film follows the singer as she attempts to perform her anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” around the US as its government wages war on her, pulling her from stages and eventually seeing her jailed on a drug possession charge.
The film was nominated for two Golden Globes – Best Actress and Best Song in a Motion Picture, which it lost to “Io Sì (Seen)”, performed by Laura Pausini and written with Diane Warren for the Netflix film The Life Ahead.
Ahead of the ceremony, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) was heavily criticised when it emerged that it currently has no Black members, and has not done for at least 20 years.
During the show, HFPA’s president, vice president and former president acknowledged “we have our own work to do”.
“Just like in film and television, Black representation is vital. We must have Black journalists in our organisation,” said vice president Helen Hoehne
Former president Meher Tatna added: “We must also ensure everyone from all underrepresented communities gets a seat at our table, and we are going to make that happen.”