Recommendation: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Image credit: Netflix

If you are looking for an interesting insight into one of the most influential black women of the twentieth century, you should definitely turn to What Happened, Miss Simone?, an exploration of the life of Nina Simone. Born in North Carolina in 1933 (when segregation was still in effect), Simone received intensive training in classical piano from the age of four, and admits to feeling lonely as a child. Her aspirations to become a classical performer were repeatedly quashed by racial discrimination. However, her turn to jazz and blues led her to become an iconic performer and civil rights activist.

Directed by Liz Garbus, the documentary feels structured to the point of being formulaic at times, and is politically timid, especially given its subject matter. However, Garbus is blessed with a wealth of archive footage, and uses it well. A variety of people from Simone’s life are included, as well as voiceover clips from Simone herself, which create a feeling that we as viewers are being let in to her inner thoughts.

The rather ordinary format of this documentary does not do it any favours, but luckily Nina Simone’s life is so interesting that the documentary still stands up as a thought-provoking watch. And of course, the live performances which make up the soundtrack are breathtaking.


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