14-year-old Charnelle Bishop tells her
grandmother that she's going to the museum for an essay she has to
write about "finding a piece of yourself in history."
But she's really going there to
buy drugs from her dealer, Lamont.
Monica tries to forge a bond with Charnelle through her love of
music, but Charnelle is wary of Monica.
Monica catches Charnelle in the bathroom lighting up a joint
and refuses to give it back until she begins her homework assignment.
Monica tells Charnelle the story of how Billie Holiday fought
her own battle against drugs. In
flashback, we return to a Greenwich Village speakeasy in 1939 where
Billie Holiday is performing, with Andrew auditioning to be her
pianist. But Charnelle isn't
interested in hearing about love songs, she likes music that tells the
truth. Monica resumes the story
of how Billie Holiday reacted when she first read the lyrics to the
song "Strange Fruit" -- the first song to tell the truth about
lynching of African Americans.
Monica persuades Charnelle to enter the exhibit of lynching
photographs on display at the museum, but after viewing them,
Charnelle is surprisingly unmoved.
Charnelle meets with Lamont in the lobby, asking him for
something stronger. Aware that
Charnelle's brother died of a drug overdose, Monica asks why she
hasn't learned from his death.
As Monica resumes Billie's story, Andrew is eventually able to
persuade Billie to sing the song, but she pleads with Andrew to get
her the drugs to give her the strength.
But Charnelle is impatient with Monica's story and grabs the
joint out of her hands. She
turns a corner and runs into a security guard, who discovers the joint
and calls her grandmother to pick her up.
As she waits, Monica resumes her story, with Billie in worse
shape, craving drugs, when Andrew's "connection" arrives and it's
Tess. But Tess isn't there to
push drugs, she's there to push God.
Georgia arrives at the museum security office, demanding an
explanation from her granddaughter.
On hearing of the lynching photographs, Georgia forces
Charnelle to view them with her.
Georgia asks Charnelle to describe what she sees, when to Charnelle's
surprise, her grandma starts describing the scene from memory --
because the man in the photograph was her brother, Earl.
Georgia explains how Earl was not only her brother, but her
teacher and her best friend. He
taught her to read, and when her birthday came around, he worked extra
hard to buy her a gift, which his employer falsely accused him of
stealing. The gift was her Bible
which she is never without and became the source of her strength.
Monica resumes Billie Holiday's story as she summons the
courage to sing "Strange Fruit" before a live audience.
After the song, there is complete silence -- until finally, the
sound of one person applauding, followed by the thunderous applause of
the entire audience. Monica
reveals herself as an angel and urges her to learn from her brother's
mistake and choose life and turn her back on drugs.
Monica encourages Charnelle to hold onto her dream, and to
write her essay, and tell the truth for her generation as Billie did
for hers. When Lamont returns
with the drugs, Charnelle takes the first step, telling him she's
changed her mind.