Every once in a while, a biographical documentary is published that broadcasts the life of an artist in a way that even those completely unfamiliar with his or her work can feel as if they understand this artist on a deeply emotional level. What Happened, Miss Simone? does just that.
Narrated by written works, audio recordings, and footage of Nina Simone, this film captures the essence of a woman who was once considered one of the greatest jazz singers of all time and then subsequently disregarded due to he unconventional outspokenness about politically and socially controversial issues.
All angles are analyzed through looking at words expressed by Nina Simone herself, as well as testimonies from her former husband Andrew Stroud, daughter Lisa Stroud, and many others who were very close with Simone and Stroud. The film covers Simone’s life from her training as a classical pianist, to her time as a black power icon and later years in Liberia, as well as personal topics such as her marital and financial troubles that only vaguely came to light towards the end of Simone’s life.
As an artist who seemed to disappear from the spotlight just as suddenly as she appeared, Nina Simone was a wildly complex and layered person beyond what most of the world ever saw her to be. This sort of truth is not something that can be easily captured solely through interviews with relatives, friends, and Nina Simone fans. How it comes to life in What Happened, Miss Simone? is through the primary source footage and journal entries of Nina. More than just what others saw and felt about this great artist, audiences are exposed to how she felt about herself; something that is truly eye opening, especially to those who only knew Simone through her music and media representation.
It is this sort of research done by the production team that makes What Happened, Miss Simone? a truly one of a kind documentary. It does not aim to tell the life of the great artist Nina Simone, but rather allows the writings, footage, and testimonies tell the story – a story widely unknown but also essential to understanding who it is that we are listening to when we listen to one of her recordings. There is so much more to Nina than what is immediately presented through her public image, and What Happened, Miss Simone? shows the exactly that; the woman behind the voice the world has come to love so much.
The screening of What Happened, Miss Simone? at the Apollo Theater was followed by a concert featuring Lauryn Hill and Jazmine Sullivan. John Leguizamo and Usher were spotted in the audience at the special event presented by Film Society Lincoln Center. Lauryn’s energetic performance consisting of a cover of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” as well as her own rendition of “Ain’t Got No… I Got Life” captivated crowds in a way mirroring the presence and performances of Miss Simone. The complete dedication to the music could be seen through the emotion Lauryn put into every moment of her performance. The subsequent performance of Nina Simone’s “Baltimore” by Jazmine Sullivan fell nothing short of Lauryn’s previous renditions. Dedicated to the recent controversies in Baltimore, Jazmine made sure to honor not only the artistry of Nina Simone, but also her dedication to activism and the black power movement through a heartfelt song. The concert was closed by an instrumental performance featuring different members of the band, each of whom gave no less than those who performed before. The powerful nature of this concert given by immensely talented artists directly after the screening of What Happened, Miss Simone? not only showed Nina Simone’s music lives on today, but also how her legacy continues to inspire artists of all backgrounds.
The film will premiere in all territories where Netflix is available on Friday, June 26 at 12:01am PT. Netflix will also release the film theatrically on Wednesday, June 24 in New York, and Friday, June 26 in Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Startraks Photo