Her voice was like thunder, and when she’d stand in front of a crowd her eyes would shine like lightning. Nina Simone in many ways was a force of nature, a woman who fought many demons but brought her unique, powerful voice and astonishing proficiency on the piano to millions of fans around the world.
More than a usual rise/fall biography, What Happened, Miss Simone? dives deep into the artist’s life, examining with sometimes uncomfortable detail the swath that she created both in her personal and professional life. Drawing upon contemporary interviews and some sublime performance footage (check out the rendition she does of “Ain’t Got No” from HAIR and it will leave you with goosebumps), What Happened does a remarkable job at both educating those unfamiliar with her travails while providing detailed context for even the most ardent fan.
The ambivalence of Simone’s actions and behaviours are carefully drawn, making this remarkable documentary not simply a testament and celebration to her craft (it is that as well), but a rich, powerful portrayal of a conflicted human being who in many ways ended up squandering what she was given. Throughout, still, there’s a power and persistence of her voice and demeanor that’s intoxicating, and it’s a tribute to the filmmakers that the film shares many of her extraordinary qualities.