Film Review: What Happened, Miss Simone?

May 21 / 16

Hello again. I did promise a film review right? I just saw What Happened Miss Simone a few weeks ago. I saw it twice actually.

She was called the Priestess of Soul. Not only was Simone a singer, but also a very accomplished pianist, whose voice crossed to jazz, blues, folk, r&b, pop, and gospel. The biographical documentary film, directed by Liz Garbus, focuses on Simone’s early years, the ups and downs of her career and personal life. You see rare archival footage of her performances, interviews from her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, an actress and singer, close friends, and her former husband and manager, Andrew Stroud.

During an 1968 interview, Simone was asked what is free to her and she said that freedom to her is no fear…”If I could have that half of my life, no fear.”

Born Eunice Wayman in Tryon, North Carolina, she began playing the piano when she was three years old. She changed her name to Nina Simone, Nina” (from niña, meaning “little girl” in Spanish), and “Simone” was taken from the French actress Simone Signoret. The reason was so she wouldn’t be detected by her mother, a Methodist minister, wouldn’t approve of her daughter playing “the devil’s music.” We see Simone rising to success during the late fifties into the early sixties with hits like I Loves You, Porgy, Nobody Knows You When Your Down and Out, and I Put a Spell on You. It wasn’t until 1963 when the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the four young African-American girls were killed from the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that Simone wrote the song Mississippi Goddamn, that changed Simone’s musical direction. She said the song was like throwing 10 bullets back at them. When I read the lyrics, it’s like Simone’s words just poured out from her, “Alabama’s got me so upset, Tennessee’s made me lose my rest, and everybody knows about Mississippi goddamn.” Not only was it turning point professionally, but personally.

We also see the turmoil in her marriage to Stroud, a former policeman who managed Simone’s career. Her daughter mentioned that her mother was Nina Simone 24 hours and that’s when it became a problem….”She was fighting her own demons. She was full of anger and rage. She couldn’t live with herself and that’s when everything fell apart.”

What I came away with after seeing this documentary was that, although she was a brilliant musician, she was also a tortured soul. In spite of all the lows, Simone lived her life the way she wanted. She was a brilliant, free spirit. That’s what this film said to me.

If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do. It’s still on Netflix, so you still have a chance. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and be blessed.

featured image: youtube