Starring: Nina Simone, Stanley Crouch, Dick Gregory
Director: Liz Garbus
Running Time: 101 mins
What Happened, Miss Simone? is an American documentary about the life of the passionate musician and black civil rights activist, known as the ‘High Priestess of Soul’, Nina Simone.
This is a very powerful and passionate documentary that tells the life of the legendary Nina Simone in great fashion. With a brilliant collection of stock footage that not only looks at Simone as a music icon but also a hugely significant civil rights activist and a person, this is a fascinating and engrossing documentary.
Going into this, I knew next to nothing about Nina Simone. The Civil Rights Movement has always been fascinating to me, but the musicians involved, I didn’t think much.
However, this documentary makes all of that even more enthralling to learn about, and extremely accessible to non-experts. If you haven’t ever heard of Nina Simone, you can easily go into this film and be engrossed by the entire story.
In terms of the way that this film tells the whole story, it’s very impressive. Structurally, it’s a bit of a by-the-books documentary, but if you get deeper into it, you discover that it’s a very passionate and fitting tribute to Simone’s life.
The first period of the film details her rise to fame in the jazz world in the 1950s from her lowly beginnings in a southern town, and shows you all sorts of fascinating clips from her childhood that show what a struggle her journey was, and from her earliest performances that gave birth to a genius in the music industry.
With interviews from both herself and her closest friends and family, you also get an extremely personal look into this story. For all of the hype surrounding her musical talent, there’s still a very touching smaller story about Simone as a person. Ultimately, it’s a sad story that she suffered so much from personal demons and domestic issues, however this film really allows you to empathise with a person that was, at her time, so aggressive and loud.
That’s where the story about her as a civil rights activist comes in. This film thinks very highly of her role in the entire movement, rightly placing her amidst historical titans like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. It talks about how she brought attention to the movement to a different crowd, and in a different way, and despite her disagreements with King’s non-violent protest tactics and her support for a more aggressive approach, her importance cannot be understated.
Overall, this is a great documentary, that not only gives you an accessible historical insight into the life of this incredible personality, but one that will both entertain and fully engross you, and that’s why it gets a 7.7 from me.