Iconic cultural figures are often placed on pedestals. They remain mysterious to us and we are left to speculate about their lives and experiences. It is rare for someone who has been so revered and idolized globally to have the opportunity to share their own story. Using Nina Simone’s own words, interviews with her family and friends, as well as footage from her life, Academy Award nominated director Liz Garbus paints a portrait of a woman who was both a master, and a victim of her time. Nina Simone’s life was one of both unimaginable success and gut wrenching suffering.
Reflecting back on life is no easy feat, it’s often a painful task to undertake, leaving the subject vulnerable and exposed; their flawless image forever riddled with unpleasant truths. And yet, when these truths are brought to light, it is the humanity of that subject that shines through.
“What Happened, Miss Simone?” acts as an introduction for new fans of Nina Simone, while providing a deeper understanding of the songstress for long time supporters. The film chronicles Nina Simone from her humble beginnings to her modest end.
Garbus’ documentary works so well because of its structure. Simone was a woman who desired more than the world was willing to give. Garbus eschews typical documentary style filmmaking, allowing Simone’s own perspective on her own work and life to shine through. Though her voice was glorious, her real forte was her ability to embody revolution through her music. Despite push-back, Nina Simone’s musical contributions to society during the Civil Right’s movement, gave her drive and purpose.
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Image: “What Happened, Miss Simone?”/Netflix