Parents' Guide to

What Happened, Miss Simone?

By Brian Costello, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Intense docu on iconic musician; graphic talk of abuse.

Movie NR 2015 101 minutes
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This is a meticulous documentary exploring the complexities of Nina Simone's tumultuous career and personal life. Since racism led to the start of her career after she was denied acceptance to a prestigious music conservatory, her response to the injustices of racism came to define her music as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s protested these conditions and the acts of terrorism against African Americans. The documentary shows how Simone's immersion and active participation in the Civil Rights Movement, beginning with the 1963 single "Mississippi Goddam," was a direct reflection of her character and artistry, even as the music industry grew increasingly wary of her activism. While this was certainly the case, What Happened, Miss Simone? also explores the other factors that had a negative impact on her career, such as the tempestuous and abusive relationship she had with her husband/manager, the mental and physical exhaustion brought on by the rigors of touring, and her struggles with mental illness.

It's a "warts and all" documentary, drawing extensively on Simone's journal entries, and exploring how Simone's erratic behavior both on and off stage would eventually be viewed as the actions of someone who is bipolar. The political and the personal are seamlessly interwoven from beginning to end. What emerges is the compete portrait of a legendary musician who was also an uncompromised artist and outspoken activist and critic of American society who risked everything in order to follow both her muse and her conscience.

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