TV Review - What Happened, Miss Simone?

Liz Garbus interviewed Lisa Simone Kelly, the daughter of black singer and piano player Nina Simone. That, along with archive footage, is what Garbus uses to craft this amazing and very compelling documentary on the life and times of Nina Simone from birth to death.

The title comes from a Maya Angelou quote. The meaning or the full brunt of which doesn't hit until the end of the film, the tragedy, fear and concern of it, the overall sadness of it.

The film opens with a performance from Nina Simone in the 1970's. She stands on stage alone next to her piano. She stands quiet and still. She sits down and starts to speak, and it's evident that as confident and as sure of herself as she is, there's something troubling her, frustrating or even angering her. This gets ignored when she starts to play her music and all you feel is just the sheer power of this woman.

Before sitting down, some might know that Nina Simone is regarded as one of the greatest Jazz and Blues singers and the first black, classical pianist. As you watch her life story, you get the sense of what informed the blues in her life. It's clear that when she sings the Blues, it comes from an authentic place.

It goes beyond her just being black in the United States, growing up in the 50's and 60's. It also goes beyond the demands of being a music star, the work demands and the celebrity demands, the curse or flip side of fame and fortune, namely maintaining it.

What's most shocking and devastating is Nina Simone's family life. She married Andrew Stroud, a former police sergeant-turned-manager of his wife's career. She then had their daughter Lisa. It's soon revealed that things went horribly wrong. It started with domestic abuse, both to Nina Simone and by Nina Simone. It ended with a woman suffering from manic depression.

She was a complicated woman and we see how her activism during the Civil Rights movement really hurt her career. We also see how her activism also informed her music and how she had to speak and sing her mind. She went into exile in Europe and things deteriorated, but she struggled to stay true to herself.

It's a powerful film that tells a powerful story. What's also incredible is the album that's filled with covers of Nina Simone songs that were created almost as a companion to this film. The album is Nina Revisited... A Tribute to Nina Simone. It has artists like Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige and Jazmine Sullivan, but listen to the songs in this movie first from the real thing. This is a great portrait.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.
Available on Netflix.


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