Cinematic Saturday: What Happened Miss Simone?

 

The Minnesota Officer who killed Philando Castile was acquitted. Philando Castile was murdered in a routine traffic stop in July of last year. Officer Jeronimo Yanez believed that Castile was reaching for a gun when he shot him. However his girlfriend, who recorded the bloody ordeal on Facebook Live while sitting in the passenger seat with their child in the back, says Castile was only reaching for his identification. Philando died later that day in the emergency room.

With so many recent shootings and deaths of innocent people of color in the U.S., it may leave some to wonder if civil rights were ever obtained for any of us. The sad truth is that history seems to be repeating itself. Thus one of the many ways to deal with the present, is to learn from our past. One unlikely, yet prominent figure of the civil rights movement was Miss Nina Simone. And in her documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?”, viewers are allowed to enter the life of not only a legendary soul singer and talented pianist, but the life of a woman who felt it was her duty to speak out against the injustices that people of color were facing.

Using some of the most notable performances and songs of her career, never before seen interviews, and rare footage, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” tells the tale of a singer who – with all the talent in the world – battled with very personal and public demons. Born Eunice Waymon in the segregated  South, Miss Simone had dreams of becoming the first black pianist and ended up becoming a very successful soul singer. The documentary portrays how these successes took a toll on Miss Simone’s life. And if the pressures of becoming a public figure were not enough, Nina Simone’s home life was not any easier. The documentary shows her hostile marriage to her manager, Andrew Stroud, who was known to physically abuse her. They had one child together, Lisa Simone Kelly, who shares her memories of her late mother in the film along with Nina’s close friends and loved ones.

Although enjoying critical acclaim with her song’s like “I Love You, Porgy” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, Nina Simone’s success was met with severe and harsh punishment when she decided to speak out against the civil unrest in America. Her first song acknowledging the hardships of Black America, “Mississippi Goddamn”, was revolutionary to say the least for its time. Because of this she suffered greatly in the public space to get her songs to play on the radio. Although she lost commercial success, she gained a sense of freedom and power. She befriended many civil rights activist including Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Loraine Hansberry, and Stokley Carmichael. Her daughter and Malcolm’s daughter grew up very close. Nina Simone began making songs that spoke on the struggle of blacks in America and also lifted their spirits. The documentary entails a interview with Nina where she states, “…My job is to make them more curious about where they came from and their own identity and pride in that identity.”

A life filled with successes and mishaps, Miss Nina Simone must still be regarded and praised for her contributions to music both as a soul singer and as an activist. This film sheds more light on the woman who through all her controversies, used her skills and her voice to shake up a slumbering America. You can watch “What Happened, Miss Simone?” on Netflix.

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