Watched On: Netflix
Directed By: Liz Garbus
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
I had seen trailers/ad floating around for this documentary for awhile now, but never got around to watching it until now. I first heard the music of Nina Simone when 'Sinnerman' was more or less engraved into the soundtrack of 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair (a legit good movie that I feel like I should go back and watch) and she got sampled on a Kanye track a few years later and then this documentary came out and I thought- you know what? I should probably sit down and find out who Miss Nina Simone was and what she was all about.
Turns out, she was about a lot. Growing up in poverty, she began training to be a classical pianist at a young age and began running into the blockades of segregation and racism almost immediately: she wasn't allowed to perform in certain venues or give recitals in others but kept at it before being discovered at a bar in Atlantic City where she was working and doing gigs to support her family. Before long, she had married her ex-cop manager, Andy and was exploding in popularity just in time for the Civil Rights Movement to reach it's peak.
Something that did strike me when watching this documentary was when Ilysah Shabaz (yes, Malcom X was her Simone's next door neighbor) talked about that moment in time and the profound impact it had on creative forces within the African-American community- it wasn't that artists and creators didn't think they had something to say, it's just that the moments and the times they were living in made them realize how important what they said actually was- so songs like 'Mississippi Goddam' and 'Young, Gifted and Black' became incredibly important to the African-American community during the years of the Civil Rights Struggle.
As the 60s wore on, Simone's marriage became increasingly strained as her politics became more radicalized and eventually, her behavior became erratic. After the death of Martin Luther King Jr, she emigrated to Liberia and eventually France, where her mental health suffered and she was almost broke and destitute before friends found her and got her the help she needed (she was eventually diagnosed as bi-polar.) She launched a come back and kept her career going all the way up to her eventual illness and death in 2003.
This was a really beautifully produced documentary about one of the titans of soul and blues, whose career and talents deserve a fresh look and fresh attention in the present day- but it's not just about the music- at least I didn't think so. It's a look back to an incredibly important moment in American history as seen through the eyes of the one of the greatest musical icons of in American history.
Overall, I don't know if I'd consider myself a big documentary guy- but if you enjoy a good documentary now and again, What Happened Miss Simone? is worth your time. If you're into documentaries and all that, then this is a must see doc. **** out of *****