Nina Simone was one of the most towering figures not only in jazz but in all of music. She was the perfect subject for a documentary, not only because of her colorful life but also because of how her work has managed to stay relevant all these years. She may have passed away on 2003, but this documentary by Liz Garbus proves that Simone’s memory lives on.
Comprised of archival footage mixed with interviews with the people closest to Simone, the film attempts to shine the light on what makes the singer tick. It leaves no stone unturned, from her early days in North Carolina to her rise as a superstar. The film also tackles her abusive relationship with her husband and manager Andrew Stroud and her eventual involvement with the Black Nationalist Movement. Peppered throughout the film are some rare footage of Simone performing as well as some journal entries that give us a sense of Simone’s creative process and how she dealt with her fame and all the trouble that came with it.
It is quite commendable that Simone’s personality shines through in every inch of the film, and it is a testament to Garbus’ skills as a documentarian because she manages to make her subjects the center of her work. And while the film doesn’t really say anything new, it’s still an enjoyable watch just because of its sheer energy.
“What Happened Miss Simone?” may not contain any earth-shattering revelations, but those who love music and are curious about one of the most important artists of our time will find several things to love about this film.