Readers Correspond on What Happened, Miss Simone?

August 10, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


To Revolution:

I watched What Happened, Miss Simone? last night and I encourage everyone to see it. It is a new film by director Liza Garbus, released on Netflix. This life story of Nina Simone, born Eunice Waymon, is powerfully told—mainly through extraordinary footage of performances and interviews by Nina herself—as well interviews with a few people who knew her well. In Nina’s own words, we learn about her dreams, her daring and defiance, her disgust with and utter contempt for the United Snakes of America, her love for Black people, and her unquenchable thirst to be free and to help free others. And we get an all too brief, sweet/sharp taste of the important and memorable music she created. The film highlights her participation in the civil rights and Black liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s through her art, the impact her song “Mississippi Goddam” had, and the price she paid for this. She was a complex person and the film does not avoid her dark side, giving some time to her battles with (long un-diagnosed) mental illness and how this impacted her relationship with her daughter, her career, and her life. It speaks about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her manager/husband (who is interviewed in the film and comes off like the pig he was and is), and the break she finally made with him, most of all because she wanted to do art at the service of the people.

We need a blossoming of revolutionary culture now and What Happened, Miss Simone? gives a glimpse of what this could be.

The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam
And I mean every word of it

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam


To Revolution:

Shortly after Nina Simone died, Revolution correspondent Michael Slate wrote: “When an interviewer once asked Nina how she wanted to be remembered, she replied, ‘I want to be remembered as a diva from beginning to end who never compromised in what she felt about racism and how the world should be, and who to the end of her days consistently stayed the same.’ And we are all forever grateful for that and all the art—and heart—that came out of it.”

The new documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, recently released on Netflix and in some theaters, gives you a taste of what he was talking about, and makes it very clear why artists who today are finding their way to stand with the people rising up against police murder and mass incarceration are coming back to her to learn and emulate. The film gathers footage not previously released, together with interviews from people who knew her.

The opportunity to hear Nina herself speak about her art, her politics, and her struggles with the system that suppressed her art shouldn’t be missed. At one point she says, “When I perform I aim to disrupt,” and the (too brief) performances in this film do exactly that.

Early in the film she talks about what went into the song “I wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”—that you can’t really explain to someone who has never been in love what it means to be in love. And you can’t really explain to someone who has never been free what that means. At another point she describes her reaction when four Black girls were killed by white supremacists who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In a few hours she wrote “Mississippi Goddam” and you watch her on stage perform it the first time.

Nina Simone as an artist emphatically believed that she had to connect with her times, and the movie gives a sense of some of that, showing speeches by Stokely Carmichael, interviewing daughters of Malcolm X, showing the scenes of her performing at civil rights marches.

Interviews with her ex-husband/manager are excruciating as he rants about how she ruined her career by becoming radical, and as you hear about the abuse she suffered from him. The documentary doesn’t shy away from drawing from her diaries to show the pain she was often in, including her battles with mental illness which was undiagnosed.

The documentary provokes you to think about a lot of questions: what would it take for an artist like Nina Simone to be able to flourish in the world; how people like Nina Simone are suppressed by the music industry and the larger society; what can the role of an artist be in a world of racial hatred and oppression.

What comes through it all is an incredible artist “who never compromised.” Watch the documentary.




Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

REVOLUTION AND RELIGION The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian
BA Speaks: Revolution Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live
BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation Its History and Our Future Interview with Raymond Lotta
The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need