You have to be careful when making documentaries about people who had an instrumental place in society. What Happened, Miss Simone? does this with class. This film is an emotionally driven documentary that uncovers the life of Nina Simone and how important she was during a time where African Americans were not only fighting for their rights, but their lives.
To most, it is common knowledge that Nina Simone was a musical legend, but it is not completely known what was happening behind the scenes. With this documentary, we get a personal look into her childhood, career and later years in life, where she would battle with a bipolar diagnosis. The film doesn’t hold back in showing us her flaws as well as her attributes and gives the audience an intimate look into her world. This was achieved due to her daughter serving as executive producer.
We are not only getting a look into Nina’s life, but also a perspective of what life was like was for black people in America at the time; it’s as if the two stories run parallel then combine into one. She goes from being a musician during the civil rights era, to an activist, who wrote politically charged music, which ultimately hurt her career.
Mostly made up of archive footage and audio from a number of interviews, this documentary is stylistically solid. I find similarities between this film and Amy (directed by Asif Kapadia) both of which were nominated for an Academy Award. Although there wasn’t much of it, the cinematography was very good and the editing was strong. The soundtrack was also incredible, but that is something that goes without saying.
An honest piece that is hard hitting and beautiful in its sadness.
What Happened, Miss Simone? is currently streaming on Netflix.