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Have you ever wondered why some critics review films? They don't even seem to like movies that much from what they write. I LOVE movies, and think about them long after the last credits roll across the screen. My reviews are meant to inform, entertain and never have a spoiler.
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

What Happened, Miss Simone?

I have long been a fan of singer Nina Simone. Her distinctive voice and the way she sings the blues are a favorite of mine. In fact, one of my stations on Pandora Internet Radio is “Nina Simone.” If you are not familiar with her, she is an African-American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist, a legend of her time (she is now deceased).

But I didn’t really know that much about her as a person, other than that she was born in the United States, and had moved to France at some point in her life. That’s about it.

So it was with interest I watched What Happened, Miss Simone? on streaming Netflix. The film has been nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Academy Awards. It is not rated.

The film by Liz Garbus paints a portrait of Nina over the course of her life from being a gifted child on the piano, to her adulthood as a troubled woman trying to find her way. The turbulent sixties were a prominent time for her, and is a time I remember well having lived through them during my formative years as a pre-teen and teen, observing the civil rights movement and Vietnam from the comfort and safety of my home in the country with my family. At that time, Nina was an activist in her 30’s, daring to write songs that highlighted the struggle for equal rights in America. She moved among circles of people who were high profile in those years, and I was amazed at whom she knew, as well as about her radical nature concerning civil rights. She was a woman with a voice, and I don’t mean just in music.

Featuring archival footage from Nina’s public appearances, interviews with her daughter and her ex-husband, as well as musician friends she worked with, it is an honest and open glimpse into her life. It didn’t disappoint in the area of her music either, allowing us to hear several of her songs from start to finish.

If you don’t normally watch documentaries, I encourage you to do so. They can be entertaining, illuminating as to the history of a region or a person, as well as thought provoking. Documentaries probably don’t cover the things you’d learn in school. They are a way to continue your education about life on earth, how people think, what impact culture has on someone, learn about history not covered on the evening news, or in the newspapers. In the process, what you see may impart an understanding about others, developing a sense of empathy for humanity, animals, and nature, whatever it is you’re learning about.

This documentary allowed us to see Nina’s life unfold as it did for her, and as she struggled to find purpose and meaning and answers to her life’s experiences. As she discovered life, so do we. I highly recommend you watch it. It illuminates not just her life, but also America and all its troubles with race and inequality.

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