What Happened, Miss Simone by Liz Garbus is a powerful and riveting film that will leave you in a reflective and pensive mood. In the film we see the many avatars of this gifted & volatile singer, composser and activist, who cast her spell on us. We see “The High Priestess of Soul,” during her good times, bad times annd troubled times.
This gripping film literally bares open Simone’s soul and shows us a troubling side of this wonderfully gifted and brilliant musician. The film consists of archival footage, never- before-heard recordings and interviews. It is the interview with her daugher Lisa Simone Kelly and what she has to say about her mother that comes as a surprise. That Simone did not treat her daughter kindly is one of the things that we learn in the film.
It is the troubled and agonizing time in Simone’s life that leaves you in a refletive mood and makes you think about mental illness and how it impacts a family. In the case of Simone her mental illness was undiagnosed for many years and that combined with an abusive marriage left deep scars on her family, especially her daugther Kelly.
Growing up Simone was training to be a classical musician and was a gifted pianist. Circumstances however put her on a different trajectory and she became a well-known jazz and soul singer. Simone applied to Curis Institute of Music in Philadephia, but was denied admission because of her color. She ended up attending Julliard Music School and trained in classical music. To make ends meet she started performing in music clubs and changed her name from Eunice Kathleen Waymon to Nina Simone. She did not want her family, especially her mother to know that she was singing in clubs.
During the 1960s Simone became famous for her music and for her activism. She became deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement. From the 1970s until her death in 20013 Simone’s life takes a lot of unexpected twists and turn. She leaves her husband and the USA and goes to live in Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland and finally settles down in France, where she dies.
It is the latter half of Simone’s life, where Garbus reveals some of those extrordinary details about the singer’s life that leave you sad both for the singer and her daughter. This is a powerful film that is worth watching.
What Happened, Miss Simone is a Netflix original documentary. The film premiers tonight on Netflix.