As many of you know the highly anticipated biographical documentary about legendary soul singer Nina Simone's life, career, and legacy has been released on Netflix this past week.
We are in an era of cinema of telling and retelling, we are in love with film adaptation of existing stories such as novel, plays, and comic books; and we are obsessed with the unveiling of hidden truths. The biopic, historical film, and documentary family of film is flourishing in recent years with films such as Amy, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and even the television film Whitney. We as viewers have the urge to know the truth behind the smoke and mirrors of celebrity, what makes the icon who they are/were, and we want to feel the deep connection to the people we idolize though we do not know them. We also want to be apart of that drama. Are films of the biographical genre exploitative? Why yes, of course. These films are uncovering personal trauma and deep emotions for the sake of entertainment and are, in the name of entertainment, playing up the drama stylistically. In Cinema every time we create a film we are creating a new reality even if it is showcasing a reality already in existence. Cinema creates a new world for viewers to become consumed by and to believe in through and through for those 90-120 minutes.
Upon watching "What Happened, Miss Simone" I knew very little about Nina Simone. I knew that she was a legend for her sultry voice and piano skills. I recently had learned briefly of her battles with mental health through the indie film "Dear Nina", but still did not know much.
This film is a beautifully composed tale of Nina Simone's life and experiences using archival footage from past interviews and performances, photos, and current interviews from people who were close to Nina including her only child, her daughter. The interviews from Nina herself were pure gold, they are the stem to this film as she is telling her passions throughout life, her ideals and philosophies, her mission, the career she wanted to pursue and how things turned out. We learned of her tumultuous relationship with husband and manager from archival interviews with him, and of course we were very much informed of her battle with mental health and her diagnosis with Manic Depression/Bipolar Disorder. What seemed to be unbenounced to many of her fans was that Nina Simone had dreams of becoming a classical pianist, the first Black Woman Classical Pianist. However she was denied a scholarship to the Curtis institute of music. In order to pay for schooling and support her family she had perform at night clubs, which eventually catapulted her music career.
Overall, "What Happened, Miss Simone" is a beautiful look into Nina Simone's life and career, a moving, chilling, and inspirational story. I highly recommend watching it.