What Happened Miss Simone?, nominated for Best Documentary Feature, presents a comprehensive look at Nina Simone starting with her early years wanting to be a classical pianist and progressing through her rise as a jazz star and civil rights activist through her music.
The documentary, by Liz Garbus in collaboration with Netflix, also explores the singer’s dark moments in her family and career life and the health issues she suffered from.
Those aspects of her life couldn’t be ignored, but overall the film shed light on a powerful woman with a lot of struggles who accomplished an extraordinary career.
While she always dreamed of being a classical pianist, Simone landed in the world of jazz music and found ways to incorporate the two styles into her compositions. She achieved stardom, got married and had a daughter but her family life wasn’t without struggle, either.
She eventually divorced her abusive husband and was estranged from her daughter, interviewed in the film, as a result of subsequent abuse she committed in their relationship.
The rest of the story, much like Amy (also nominated for best documentary), is told through archival footage and interviews with Nina Simone throughout her career. I was enamored with Simone’s style on stage but, as her friend and band member Al Schackman described it, there was something else there and she did seem to be hiding her pain.
It’s a sad story in a lot of ways, also like Amy, but both films show the imprint their subjects left on the world and society they lived in. I didn’t know a lot about Nina Simone and I imagine, because of the film’s in-depth look at her life, even her fans and history buffs learned a thing or two from the personal story.
In other news, here is a quote of the day my everything Paul F. Tompkins posted on Twitter yesterday:
“Tired. Awakened too early by the sounds of Manhattan: traffic, stickball, the cry of the fishmonger, explosions, a heavily accented rat.”