What happened, Miss Simone? This quote is from Maya Angelou. It is also a documentary that tries to explain to the lovers and to the neophytes who is Nina Simone, the legend but also the woman, the artist, the human being. So this is our Minema this month. LEVEL SPOILER ALERT 5/5
The truth is that I wanted to continue my series on first-name-biopics (you know, we had started with Ray). So I turned to Nina very quickly. Only critics and controversies related to the film have somewhat turned me off. Just see what Lisa Simone Kelly, her daughter has to say, and I turned my back.
After pushing the chronicle from month to month while still willing, at all costs, to talk about Nina Simone, I found happiness by discovering Nina honoured in the very beautiful, almost complete, and disarming documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?
Directed in 2015 by Liz Garbus, and aired on Netflix, this documentary traces the rowdy and exciting life of the extraordinary singer and pianist whose dream was to become the first black classical pianist in America. Politics, codes, moralities, racism of the time did not help her, she did not go into the Conservatory of her dreams and began to play the piano in clubs. And she starts singing.
The rest of her story, we know only through her titles, sometimes traditional she arranged (Sinnerman), sometimes written for her and her unique warm voice (Ain’t Got No, I Got Life), sometimes written by herself (Mississippi Goddam) .
What interests me in this documentary is the whole context of her success, her decline and her reconquest. If her anger and her struggle for civil rights allowed her to write and sing wonderful titles like To Be Young, Gifted and Black, it was also what pushed her in the shadows.
Between this fight for the rights of Black people in the United States and the perpetual one she led against her depression, her suicidal thoughts, we must add her tumultuous and toxic relationship with her family. Beaten by her husband, she will also beat on her daughter. In the documentary, Lisa Simone Kelly explained that she had seen her guardian angel change into a monster, but that later understanding and care provided some clarification.
It can be said that Nina Simone did not really have time for lightness. Her voice, forever transformed by rage and anger, is still inscribed today in the music landscape as one of the most unique and recognizable voices of all time. To understand her and understand her work but also from where she drew her so special scenic energy, these archival images combine perfectly and reveal all of her art.
If the legend remains one of our favourite voices, we’re very curious about the demons and the qualities of the heart of this woman who opened the doors for many others. The documentary shows it perfectly, without ever questioning her talent. She was not the first, not the only one, not without fault, but she was clearly a unique, forever troubled character. But what happened? Let’s play Sinnerman again.