This Netflix original documentary opens with a poignant quote by the late great Maya Angelou. It reads:
Miss Simone, you are idolized,
even loved, by millions now.
But what happened, Miss Simone?
This quote says it all and sets the tone for perhaps one of the most revealing documentaries to date of a celebrity’s life and times. Whether you are a fan or someone who knew absolutely nothing about Nina Simone, one cannot help but to be pulled into the Nina Simone experience. With clips of her music scattered throughout the documentary like a soundtrack, her daughter opens an invisible diary but wide open glimpse into her mother’s life.
This woman who was a singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist tells her own story with her own voice and by way of her own words, revealing the fateful journey her life took from the time she was a child learning to play the piano at a time when it was uncommon for an African American child to be classically trained to the path she took to strike out on her own to become one of the world’s best known performers.
Nina Simone’s life, while riddled with successful peaks in her career, the birth of her daughter and early financial success, the What Happened, Miss Simone documentary reveals that her life was also riddled with deep valleys as a result of a failed marriage, spousal abuse, financial devastation and a powerful bout of mental illness.
Her decision and willingness to step up and address the problems of the 1960’s through her music is inspiring and even more so at the thought that ultimately through her desire to convey a message, she might have done so at the peril of her own musical success. Nina, who initially was not one who had initially enjoyed work so much or so hard, found her passion in fighting for civil rights and what she deemed as political justice. Ultimately, as her daughter shared during the documentary, Nina was punished for her views and it would seem that things spiraled from there which had to be very difficult for her, someone who had previously experienced a great deal of success.
In addition, she eventually left the country in a quest for inner peace and ultimately, she separated herself from her husband and for a time from her daughter. Her temporary departure from the country, spotlight and family for a time enabled her to perhaps become the recluse she needed to be a for a time after having experienced the life she had lived.
The documentary concludes with us seeing what became of her in her brief return to the spotlight while in Europe, showing that while she had left the spotlight for a time, her fans never forgot her. She continued to tour for a number of years into the 1990’s, passing in 2003.
Fans and even non-fans should watch this well-made documentary as there is much to learn of What Happened to Miss Nina Simone.
TV HACK Rating
What Happened, Miss Simone