“Miss Simone, you are idolized, even loved, by millions now. But what happened, Miss Simone?”
–High Priestess of Soul, Maya Angelou
Netflix (and select theaters) premiered an authorized Nina Simone documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” in June. The film opened with a quote from Maya Angelou, so I was already sitting up straight and anxious for it to start. Other than falling in love with a few of Nina Simone’s quotes and old photos, I was unfamiliar with her story. But when I saw the documentary begin with a word from Auntie Maya I thought, “This gon’ be good, y’all.”
Documentaries and biopics, especially the ones based on the lives of prominent, Black individuals from the 60s and 70s, hold a special place in my heart. I wanted to avoid writing a review of “What Happened, Miss Simone?”, because that meant I’d have to re-watch in order to explain the things I didn’t like–and who wants to ruin a good thing? Not writing a review also made it harder to not share every “aha” moment I had. Instead, I chose four quotes and three songs by Nina Simone to bless your mind and soul.
“What Happened, Miss Simone?” Gems
On being asked what it means to be free:
“It’s just a feeling. It’s like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love? How are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love? You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things but you can’t tell them, but you know it when it happens…I’ve had a couple of times on stage when I really felt free, and that’s something else. I’ll tell you what freedom is to me, no fear. I mean, really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life, no fear.”
That quote in itself can be series of blog posts. After playing it back three times, I stopped to think about how it would feel to not be afraid of ANYTHING or ANYONE. Just living your life for you. Nina was right. Even though I had hopeful images in my head, I couldn’t actually feel anything.
“Sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.”
I love this quote because it’s basically my life. Although she’s describing her voice, it’s exactly how I’d answer someone if they asked, “How are things going you?” Some days are rough, and some are smooth sailing.
“I was never non-violent. Never. I thought we should get our rights by any means necessary.”
*sips tea* Sis played no games. I’m more of a peacemaker than Miss Simone, but her 1960’s frustrations feel a little too familiar in 2015. With the recent events including the Charleston Shooting and the burnings of several predominantly Black churches, you better believe I drifted into my feelings. Although her views were more extreme, I appreciate how she used music to support the Civil Rights Movement.
“Mississippi Goddamn” was written after four girls were killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.
“To me we are the most beautiful creatures in the whole world, Black people. So my job is to make them more curious about where they came from, and their own identity and pride in that identity. That’s why my songs, I try to make them as powerful as possible, mostly just to make them curious about themselves.”
As a lover of the arts and a rising, low-key activist, this turned on so many light bulbs. Growing up, I struggled with my Blackness. I wanted lighter skin, a smaller nose and straight hair SO badly… until I started paying attention to the right people. People, of all races, who were not only proud of their history, but proud of themselves. You know the saying “You can’t know where you’re going to if you don’t know where you’re coming from”? YES. YES. When I started to learn my family’s story is when I began to “wake-up”. I grew to love my wide Alexander nose, my darker-than-a-paper-bag skin and my kinky (aka nappy) hair. I think it’s important to use our talents and whatever outlets available, to educate and increase awareness on many things, including self-love.
What are your thoughts on “What Happened, Miss Simone?” Comment below or tweet me @TheAceAlexa! I’d love to hear your perspective on the documentary and on the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone.