Nina Simone was on course to becoming the most prominent blues and jazz singer in American history. She could not only sing any style of music but she was a classically trained pianist as well. The fusion of jazz, blues, and classical can be heard on many of her early albums. So why is it that you probably don’t know her name?
She refused to hide behind her stardom during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Instead of playing it safe, she would align herself with Malcolm X calling for blacks to arm themselves to create their own black nation. Her concerts became civil rights rallies and she become more and more combative in her stance. Meanwhile, her personal life was in utter shambles as she was married to an abusive husband and tried to live while having undiagnosed bi-polar and manic-depression.
These three issues – her combative position on civil rights, her marriage, and her undiagnosed manic-depression – formed the perfect storm for her to just walk away from it all in late 1968. She would leave her family and spend the next 10 years in dive bars in France.
The film thrives telling Nina’s story from her childhood to her reemergence in the late ’70s. Skillfully using archived footage as well as interviews with her daughter, her ex-husband, as well as other family and friends. Using interviews that Nina Simone gave as the narrator works very well for the film’s first two acts.
It’s the final act of the film that leaves you wanting. There is a moment of conflict in the film concerning the medicine Nina was taking for her manic-depression that is never fully explored. Her friends felt like it helped her, her daughter questions if that was really true. Sadly, this is all that is explored of the topic. There is no mention of her time in Africa or her battle with breast cancer in her later years.
It’s a good film as it is regardless of the unfinished feeling you’ll have when it is over. The content on the civil rights movement alone makes this a worthwhile watch. It should be noted that this is the ‘authorized’ version of the life of Nina Simone and was done with the full cooperation of the family.