What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

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7.5 Overall Score

An interesting look at a complex singer who had influence

Underdeveloped, weird choice to use Simone's abusive husband

 
Movie Info

Movie Name:  What Happened, Miss Simone?

Studio:  Netflix

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  January 22, 2015 (Sundance)/June 26, 2015 (Netflix)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

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A talent destroyed by herself?

Eunice Kathleen Waymon wanted nothing more to be the first classical black pianist.  When she found herself forced to sing to help support her dreams, Eunice took the name Nina Simone and found herself on a whirlwind of success.  With an abusive husband who also served as her manager, Nina discovered being a successful African-American in a time of change meant choosing sides.  Nina became a voice in the demands for change and her actions would shape the rest of her life.

Directed by Liz Garbus, What Happened, Miss Simone? is a documentary feature which premiered at Sundance.  The movie was released on Netflix on June 26, 2015 and garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Feature Documentary.

I knew little of Nina Simone when I watched the documentary.  I knew she was a jazz-blues singer and I knew she had been a proponent of the Civil Rights Movement.  Watching What Happened, Miss Simone?, I started to get a picture of the woman, but I also felt that there was a lot left to be desired.

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Nina definitely doesn’t believe in passive resistance!

The documentary was an interesting look at what makes an artist but it also left holes.  The movie paints Nina Simone as someone who lived it all out on stage (she would refuse to perform if people were talking or moving around) but it also shows that she was suffering from bipolar disorder and signs of schizophrenia (which at the time was undiagnosed).  It is these two sides of her actions that felt like they needed to be fused earlier in the documentary to understand her and some of her behavior.

The documentary also sparked controversy.  One of the featured interview subjects is Nina’s former husband Andrew Stroud.  Stroud outwardly admitted that he physically abused Nina and through archived interviews with Simone, you learn that he continued to push her despite the physical strain on her.  Though I’m sure Simone wasn’t always the easiest person to deal with due to some of her medical conditions, Stroud comes off as a complete bully and totally unlikable…it therefore discredits much of what he says and it seems like an odd choice for an addition to documentary.

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Yes…let’s hear more from the abusive husband that used Nina (sarcasm).

I rather wish that Simone’s music had been woven into the context of the story more.  We get to hear bits and pieces of her powerful voice and some of her music, but I felt since some viewers might not be familiar with her, the documentary should have used music as more of a means to easy viewers into Simone’s life.  It left me wanting more music.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is interesting in that it shows once again how art can overtake a person’s life if they don’t know how to deal with it or they are surrounded by corrupting forces.  The movie could have easily been longer and looked deeper and Simone’s activism and music but it feels like a good introduction.  It also makes a nice flipside to a film like Amy about Amy Winehouse which was also released in 2015…two artists, two paths, and similar problems.  Both films are worth checking out.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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