The Irresponsibility of ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’

The Irresponsibility of 'What Happened, Miss Simone?'

Imagine this: A documentary about Rihanna where Chris Brown gets to talk about Rihanna’s temperament. Where Brown admits to hitting Rihanna as if it was par for the course because she was a difficult personality. Nina Simone’s husband was described in this way: “He would step out of his car and people ran”. Nina, in her own words said: ”He put a gun to my head, then he tied me up and raped me.” Would we let Chris Brown complicate the narrative of the abuse? Why do we allow Nina Simone’s abuser to be part of the telling of her story?

Certainly, there are aspects to the documentary that we have not seen. Getting to hear parts of Nina Simone’s diary is priceless. However, we have to remember that those excerpts were chosen to support the narrative that the filmmaker wanted to bring forward.

Is it possible to tell the story of a Black woman, who is a genius, who experienced abuse and fully embrace the impact of the abuse on her life? Do we have to make her complicit in her abuse? Is it possible to experience a Black woman as a genius and show her process, highlight what informed that genius, versus shaping a narrative that is weighted toward her “damage”?

The title alone makes me cringe. That’s the premise for a story about Nina Simone? What happened to her? It reminded me of the title: "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?." How about…"The genius of Nina Simone." "The power of Nina Simone." Is that how our culture experiences the power that was this woman? What was wrong with her? 

When I look at Nina Simone, I see what is right with her, and what was wrong with the culture that surrounded her.

Clearly, Nina Simone is one of America’s greatest geniuses. Certainly, like Charlie Parker, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, James Baldwin, her story is complex. But, the fact that this woman survived America and created such searingly beautiful music, is worthy of respectful documentation. This documentary is not that.

We expect less of Black women. We accept that Black women are trauma riddled, crazy, violent, angry beasts- especially the dark-skinned ones. Is that why this documentary is so beloved? Is that why this documentary is receiving little, to no, critical analysis?

I am all for addressing mental illness as it relates to Black women. What I am not here for is ascribing it to her creative dexterity. Nina Simone was a child prodigy. Yes, mental illness is part of her legacy, but there is another aspect to her, her process, her heart, her insight. Throughout the documentary, it was repeated that Ms Simone wanted to be the first Black classical pianist in America. But, very little information in the documentary supported the effort it took to bring that to fruition; the very specific, detailed process of her creation. I wonder if her process was in her diary. The first part of the documentary conveys some of that, and then it goes into blaming her for her “descent” after she disappears into the Civil Rights Movement. Think about it, this sensitive soul felt and conveyed in music, the trauma of the Black experience. She lived through the hate the culture exacted on Black America AFTER experiencing extreme abuse. Her story is the story of many Black women who are brilliant, freedom fighters.  

The most generous review that I can give is, Liz Garbus continues the tradition of painting genius as tortured, afflicted, abusive. I’ve known genius. Genius is complex. It is way more captivating and charismatic than it is frightening. Genius exists in a type of isolation because few in the culture truly understand it. That is the difficulty with this documentary. We are given the outer layers of her genius, it is an observation of it, versus a true reading of it. Similar to Ken Burns’ portrait of Charlie Parker. Burns would have us believe that Parker was a drug addicted mummy. What they fail to convey is that both Parker and Simone created music that did not exist prior to their existence. HOW did they do that? That’s the documentary or film we have yet to see.



What is it to walk in the shoes of Nina Simone, a dark-skinned Black American girl born in the South? What is it to experience the rejections, the hurts and still keep it together enough to execute at a superior level? That is enough to drive anyone mad. Liz Garbus could not convey that because she is not that. She has not had that experience. Nope. She can’t. Perhaps she should have told the tale of Nina through Nina’s diaries- solely. Because, honestly, I am not interested in what people have to say about her, I am interested in the exalted Simone, what drove her to create.

Aside from her abuser telling her story, I was struck by something else. Nina Simone’s daughter stated that her mother invited the abuse. She was speaking, at that point, from the perspective of a child’s memory. A child cannot know the dynamics of an adult relationship. Whereas, I understood her daughter’s recounting of the abuse that she experienced at the hands of her mother and I wanted to hear that, I felt that it was irresponsible to say that Nina Simone invited the abuse she received. In this respect, Nina Simone’s diary was paramount. Nina’s words are haunting and should have stood on their own.

Did I step away feeling Nina Simone’s genius? No, I did not. I walked away feeling like, damn, what a scary woman. I was duped and I don’t appreciate it. Apparently, there is a documentary being made about Grace Jones. Thank goodness Grace Jones is alive to be interviewed. Otherwise, I would be afraid to watch. And let us be mindful of any documentaries on Lauryn Hill. 

What is madness? What, exactly, creates it? We can’t answer that question. But what we can do is take care of our Artists as we tell their story. We must challenge the idea that Black women don’t feel abuse and aren’t impacted by it.

Nina Simone was more than crazy. Nina Simone was a genius, Black woman who left us incalculable magnificence.

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Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SteeleInk. Or visit digtanya.com.

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Comments

T. Burd

I found your post, because I just finished watching the documentary and was so appalled, I had to find out if others felt the same. While watching, I felt exactly as you’ve stated. Why on earth would her abusive ex-husband be such a strong part of the narrative? Ike Turner is – rightfully – universally reviled for his treatment of his beautiful, amazing wife. Yet somehow Nina Simone’s violent, unrepentant, horrible ex-husband deserves a voice because his wife had very public, severe mental health problems? According to this documentary, that’s exactly how it seems. I found myself asking what the point of this documentary was? Nina Simone’s creativity, her brilliance, her courage and her lasting legacy as a brave and brilliant trailblazer for African American and ALL female musicians, deserve so much more than this shoddy documentary gives her.

Bob P

You must have watched a different programme from the one I saw. You make the mistake of interpreting what was shown, said, remembered as truth or fact. And you do an audience the disservice of assuming our response is as literal and simplistic as yours. Are you actually trying to suggest that there was really nothing wrong in the world of Nina Simone? Do you actually believe we, like you, take all those memories, comments and opinions to amount to the truth about this amazing woman? Come on, please give us more credit and please don’t view the re-telling of misfortune and it’s consequences as some kind of conspiracy. This is a documentary, not the documentary. No doubt we can all see this for what it is. And, by the way, what on earth is ‘her process’?!

C

Anyone who had worked with domestic violence victims knows it is complicated. I dare not challenge the daughter who was an eye witness, raised in this environment. Yes Mis a Simone was a genius and a revolutionary but she was also human.

Joe

Well, the title wouldn’t make you cringe if you knew it was from Maya Angelou, I’m guessing….

Marienne Branch

Extremely well-written on all levels – thank you! And God bless you!

Carolina

Thank you, that’s precisely what I felt when I saw the documentary. It strikes me that her own daughter can’t understand that her mother was un pain and therefore unable to leave a relation that punished and underlined her "unworthiness", wich was a trauma inflicted to her. Again a story of a brilliant woman crying for help and getting none. off course then she made mistakes and was violent: because she was broken. So sad and revolting.

taylor

Nobody needs to watch a documentary to know that an artist like Nina Simone was a true musical genius. The documentary highlights an aspect of Simone’s life that not only troubled her, but would come to empower her.

Amy

Miss Steele, I’ve just watched the documentary and felt the feelings you expressed so articulately about her abuse and her abuser…I thank you for your review and hope that it will reach many. She is genius, and it does not do her justice. Disappointing. Thank you again, Amy

Jess

I know this post is from a while ago but I saved it because I definitely wanted to read it. I was really interested to hear what a negative review of the movie would be. After reading it (and many times during) I had a lot of disagreements and was wondering your take on it. (Going from start to finish in the points).

If in 50 years someone was doing a documentary about Rihanna, if Rihanna had decided to marry and continue to be with Chris publicly and privately for years and years, then yes. I don’t think it would be absurd to get his perspective on her and their relationship. As long as it’s not the ONLY perspective we got which I think is what this movie thankfully didn’t do. Abuse is complex and complicated but I think when someone decides to marry and continue to be with an abuser, people may be interested in how the abusee see’s them in their eyes. Also how the abuser sees the abusee and him/herself. I don’t think showing her husband’s perspective makes the movie apologetic for his behavior and it doesn’t not make a statement about how wrong it is. I think it just paints a fuller picture that had more colors in it than if it was only excerpts from her diary.

As far as the selections from her diary were chosen to play up the filmmaker’s narrative, I feel that’s kind of a moot point because that happens in every documentary. They try to give off the image of giving a "balanced" view of what happened, while simultaneously 1. Creating the best/most marketable story 2. Peddling their own point of view intentionally or not and 3. Staying as close to the truth as they can while doing numbers one and two. It’s just what you sign up for when you watch a documentary where the subject of it isn’t an executive producer or a huge part of the making, producing, and marketing of the film.

"Is it possible to tell the story of a Black woman, who is a genius, who experienced abuse and fully embrace the impact of the abuse on her life?" I felt like the documentary did that. Perhaps I filled in a lot of the dots with me feeling connecting to the black female struggle (especially the struggle of a woman who consider’s herself valuable and enlightened in a world that tells her otherwise), but I also feel like the impact of her abuse was clear. She struggled emotionally and mentally, it caused issues in her other relationships, and led her to withdraw from making music, and eventually she had to take medication.

"Do we have to make her complicit in her abuse?" I feel like this is a complicated question masquerading as a simple one. What does being complicit in abuse mean? Does it mean staying with your abuser? She certainly did that. Does it mean inviting it? I think Nina said things along the lines of if you’re going to beat me so then let’s just get it over with. I would say that’s not exactly complicit, but again, it’s a complicated situation. Similar to how some people argue women in real life or in a movie scene were complicit in their rape because they moved their bodies a certain way. in reality, many women move their bodies in a way that might look like they are trying to enjoy it/complicit but really they are just trying to have it not hurt as much (and probably get it over with quicker). I think the movie set up a good background for her to make the audience believe she had a lot of struggles (emotional/self worth in that time period when your a woman, and black, and both) that would make it difficult for her to be emotionally healthy enough to leave an abuser.

As far as how much the movie focuses on her damage vs her power and genius, I think the reason it’s titled the way it was is because if you were alive at the same time as her, you might think she was so talented and then all of a sudden she disappeared from public life for no reason. I think a lot of the documentary was explaining how it got so bad that even music couldn’t keep her going enough to fight her demons. Essentially, what happened miss Simone that made you withdraw from society and the music industry because we all thought you were doing fine?

"When I look at Nina Simone, I see what is right with her, and what was wrong with the culture that surrounded her." I couldn’t agree more! I think that was the main take away I got from the movie. This woman was so visibly and clearly incredible but the time and society she was living in would never allow her to fully live and shine in her glory. That is what happened to miss Simone. It was crippling for her. I don’t think they were pushing a narrative that Simone was inherently damaged and that was her downfall (though that is a small part of it), it was more that Simone had a lot done to her and around her that damaged her.

"We expect less of Black women. We accept that Black women are trauma riddled, crazy, violent, angry beasts- especially the dark-skinned ones. Is that why this documentary is so beloved? Is that why this documentary is receiving little, to no, critical analysis?" So I’m with you completely here, but at the same time, Simone WAS trauma riddled, at times violent, at times angry, and dark. I felt that when they showed all of this while also showing her joy and her happiness in music and other things, they were portraying her as multifaceted and human. I will say though, they probably could have showed a little more of her happy times/happiness.

"But, very little information in the documentary supported the effort it took to bring that to fruition; the very specific, detailed process of her creation". (Talking about how she wanted to be the first black classical pianist in America). They said she practiced all the time and had lessons multiple times a week. I’m not sure what else would have been needed to say other than she was great because of natural born talent, training and practice.

"The first part of the documentary conveys some of that, and then it goes into blaming her for her “descent” after she disappears into the Civil Rights Movement." I strongly disagree with this. I think the movie was saying Nina got involved with the CRM and she must have known at the time (and I think the movie brought it up) that their were consequences for being vocal and in the public eye about civil rights. Technically, you could "blame" her for her descent but I think the movie doesn’t come at it with a place of shaming her. I think the movie says this woman felt so compelled to speak out even when she knew she could have (and was) silenced about things not having to do with civil rights (her music/bookings). I think it’s portrayed as bravery, not bravado.

"What is it to walk in the shoes of Nina Simone, a dark-skinned Black American girl born in the South? What is it to experience the rejections, the hurts and still keep it together enough to execute at a superior level? That is enough to drive anyone mad." I thought I got a really good sense of this in the movie. I thought that last sentence was one of the main points/themes of the movie.

As far as telling her story through her diary only, it could have worked but it also could have not worked. I think it’s important for a documentary to show not only how we think of ourselves but also how we are thought of and responded to by others. Again, it paints a fuller picture. But that’s just me.

I think getting her daughter’s perspective on her mom’s marriage was not vital to add to the movie, but again, offers another person’s perspective who was close to Nina and close to the situation. I don’t think her daughter’s perception as a kid should be taken as the defining truth. Maybe next to but certainly not above Nina’s own words about it.

"I walked away feeling like, damn, what a scary woman." I’m confused on how she came to that conclusion (even if only for the sake of argument). I didn’t find Nina scary, I found her always resolute and when she needed to be, commanding (on stage mainly). I thought she was powerful but also intensely vulnerable.

" And let us be mindful of any documentaries on Lauryn Hill." Yeah…I wouldn’t trust any LH doc that her family isn’t very much a part of.

"We must challenge the idea that Black women don’t feel abuse and aren’t impacted by it." I thought that was the main point of he documentary. Simone felt her abuse and was impacted by it alongside of her genius.

That’s all :-)

Craig Carpenter

Thank you for this excellent review. I came away with much of the same disappointments. I believe you hit the nail on the head in suggesting that Ms. Garbus, being outside of the experience, was incapable of adequately conveying it- the actual how and why. I do agree with that. And I agree with the idea that having her husband/manager as part of the voice that becomes the public record is indeed problematic. I agree with you on all of this. I do wonder, though, if you’ve read, in advance or since, Ms. Simone’s own autobiography, I PUT A SPELL ON YOU. I was much younger when I’d read it- easily twenty years ago, and not sure how accurate my memory of it is after all of this time. But I do remember being disappointed for some of the very same reasons you were in this film- and this was in regard to her own words. At the time, I’d mentioned that to the young lady who’s given me the book. As illuminating as it was, I felt crestfallen. The book had almost, in some ways, slain one of my heroes, and it was through her own voice. I grew up with Nina Simone as a part of nearly every Sunday. There was never a moment I wasn’t familiar- but I never felt I knew her. After reading the book, I expressed my disappointment to that young lady, and she, wiser than me, suggested that books can be edited with someone else’s agenda (I’ve never forgotten that), and perhaps that was the case with the book, as it may have been with the film. Or, perhaps my memory of the book made the revelations in the film less surprising, and even less disappointing because it was path is tread before. I’m very lukewarm to the film. There were some performances I hadn’t seen, and some of the commentary was interesting in its historical sense, but I’m generally not in the mood for the slaying of heroes. Perhaps, as time goes on, the books, the films, and the music, in tandem, present a full and nuanced picture of her. At this point, it’s all we can hope for. But we have it, and nothing from it will ever make us question her genius, no matter how it happened. But we may still be left wondering.

Barber

Thank you!!

Jazzzgrl

Ms. Steele, I do understand what you say about the title What happened Miss Simone. Perhaps that "could have been placed later in the documentary when she went to Liberia and started miss treating her daughter, And eventually was losing her self in Europe. so I agree there could have been more exalted title. And there is no excuse for that kind of abuse by her husband. But I do find you over reaching your place to question his inclusion in a film made by the daughter of the two of them. And I think even though she was a child , her perspective is totally and completely valid more so I’d say then yours. Yours being theoretical hers As a witness and family member and feels a bit disrespectful to me. Abusive relationships are complex and purely vilifying an abuser is the easy way of looking at it. Don’t you think A bipolar person might provoke a partner? But yes the lead is in control of that terrible tango. I did always wonder what was the story with this remarkable artist. ypu are looking for a different film. I do agree with you that it was a poor angle to filter it through that quote. And your certainly right, she was reacting to things that were wrong with our society. I just think you could be less harsh in your tone about Lisa Stroud. Can you possibly imagine rarely seeing your mother and then being swept away with her as a young teen to another world and abanonded there then abused by her when she re-appeared? I think she has a right to produce the film she wants without the dismissiveness because you would like to get inside the artist’s mind more.

Truth

I disagree with your observation. Life is not neat and I thought the film touched on personal areas of Nina Simone’s life that we as the general public didn’t know about. The film was loaded with references of talent and her over coming barriers placed in her way. Example, her husband and her relationship was not the best but as manager and star they worked well for the most part especially when they combined forces to fund and put on a concert at Carnige Hall. Which was an incredible achievement for any artist at the time.

J

IDK…the points you bring up are valid but I have to say I did not walk away from watching the doc thinking that Nina was scary or ugly at all. I felt somehow moved by her genius and her strength through everything that was depicted about her. Obviously, every doc like this is biased and will not show all sides of a story but what could not be diminished in this film was her genius. Black women in this country have always and still do have it hard. Nina’s music is loved by many races and I think if anything it shows people more of the truth about what its like to be a black woman, a genius, a mother, and artist of that magnitude during those times…and even today. We in the USA sometimes wanna believe our fav and famed artists lives are perfect and it must just be like living on a cloud of talent and success. No one wants to really k ow what it could take to be that that thing that people admire. To go back to your opening example of Chris Brown, I think people would allow that kind of film to be made and viewed and liked. Chris Brown is allowed to be a huge celebrity. The murmurs have subsided and he is dancing, singing and acting a fool and people are fine with it. He’s selling like crazy. America is fickled. But I don’t think that has much to do with this documentary honestly.

Jordy

If the author of this article had even the slightest clue about mental illnesses, specifically manic depression, she would have not have written this article. It is she who is irresponsible, not the director of this film.

Khadija Anderson

I saw the movie and didn’t think Simone was crazy, quite the contrary. I saw an amazing artist that held it together and produced wonderful work in a devastatingly oppressive society with an abusive husband. I agree that her daughter had a right to her opinion, but I also agree that she could not have understood the dynamics of the relationship with the husband. I found it disturbing to focus so much on him and I thought the title was a strange choice also. Simone was such a gift and I was happy to have seen some insight through her performance clips and her diary. There was one clip that is on youtube in a longer version and I wondered why the filmmaker chose to edit it the way it got edited. I thought it would have been a great addition to put in the entire clip (it’s the show in Paris where she tells a girl in the audience to sit down). Thanks for your insightful opinion.

Robert

After I watch a film like this I always wonder if white filmmakers ever stop to ask themselves if they are the appropriate person to tell this kind of story. Not that they can’t, but that perhaps a filmmaker of color would be better suited to understand the complexities of what it means to be a person of color living in a system that oppresses you.

Nano

the thing is, the daughter is also the film’s producer. no wonder they stand by her vision. not so much the director’s fault I think.
but yes, it’s tough to hear the husband admitting hitting her and all. it becomes pretty obvious his reminiscing of other facts is biased in his own interest.
the title just questions where the hell was the lady during so many years.
I for one only discovered her after watching Bridget Fonda in the film Point of no return. would have liked the film to touch on this, and also on David Bowie who recorded "Wild is the wind" and who she mentions in the Montreaux 1976 concert (which is incredible, as is the Sixties one where she’s depicted singing "Mississippi goddamn").

Dan

You’re an idiot. The film did a beautiful job of telling the story of Simone’s complicated life while not letting the troubling personal aspects overwhelm the core story: her life as an extraordinary musician.

Harolyn Cumlet

As I do not currently have access to Netflix, I cannot comment on the film. But your essay is a beautiful, intelligent piece of work and brings up issues that troubled me on seeing excerpts of the documentary. Thank you.

Yvette

I glad I’m not alone in that observation. I was slaking my head all through the movie. This man was so casually commenting about her as if he had no responsibility in it. I agree her journal should told her story. My heart was aching.

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CC

Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. And… "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them". Hello Shadow and Act readers. The above iconic lines are from Dragnet and The Naked City. I love those lines and the films, but today I am using them as an introduction of sorts, to what’s on my mind. Well, see, Shadow and Act posts nearly 10 articles a day(over a month, that’s a whole lotta reading). So it’s safe to say a person can pick ‘n choose who they want to read and what they want to read. Consequently, if I’ve offended anyone by the hijacking of Tanya Steele’s post, as Dionne "Paris’ Black Pearl" Warrick was known for singing, "WALK ON BY". Remember, there are eight million stories in this naked city of Shadow and Act, so don’t let one black hack spoil your day. Don’t sweat the small stuff. On the other hand, this writer is always open and humbly requests constructive feedback. Maybe a suggested plotline, character, dialog? Maybe A character development? A guess at who did it. Like of dislike? ANYTHAANG? Hey, I suppose I could have asked for permission from Tambay to do my thang without riding Ms. Steele’s wave, but I already know the answer to that question :-). Consequently, you’ve heard of Guerrilla filmmaking, right. Well, I be CC the Sillafella Gorilla. Holla… please. P.S. Hi Tanya

CC

RECAP: What Happened To Tanya Steele? Because of Tanya’s recent descent into irresponsible postings, many slamming talented artist and offending Shadow and Act’s readers, she created a host of enemies, which may have lead to her demise. So begins the story of What Happened To Tanya Steele. Tanya is living in the penthouse apartment at the lavish Knights Of The Mystic Sea Lodge resort. The story begins with a bellhop walking briskly through the lobby with a tray above his head, he yells, "Call for Tanya Steele… message for Tanya Steele". We then see a dark figure peering down from the balcony. They’re placing a call on their cell phone. A phone rings at the front desk. The clerk says, "Yes, I’ll see that he does that". The clerk beckons the bellhop. She leans over and whispers… "rush that to room 202". Next we hear a knock on the door of room 202. The door slowly open. A gloved hand slowly reaches out from behind. As the hand gets within an inch of the "package/message" a shot rings out! The bellhop screams, drops the package and runs away. The door closes with only the gloved hand extending out. The house detective, Sergio Mins, is first on the scene. He struggles to push the door open as the body lays on the other side. Once inside he turns to his assistant, the reader Blackman, and says, matter of factly "she’s dead, gunshot to the head, I believe it’s the writer Tanya Steele". Sergio Mims, the writer,movie critic, house detective and lady’s man, was not a person to take lightly. The Monsieur Gustave like house "dic" had grown tired of being used, disrespected and broke. However, through the investigation of Miss Steele’s murder, all his problem may soon be over. RECAP: Its been discovered that Tanya Steele was not only a poison pen writer, she was alo a blackmailer. Her penthouse apartment was equiped with an elaborate surveilance system. Motion detectors and heat sensor were installed in every room, including the five restrooms in the lavish apartment, recording every movement of her guest… and those in other rooms as well. There’s also a secret passage from the penthouse to room 202. 3 people were now dead. Sergio is now in possession of those tapes. After scanning over them and having read all of Tanya’s articles at Shadow and Act, he compelled a list of prime suspects. The list includes the S&A readers, Miles Ellison, Charles Judson, Mark and Darla, Ms. TroubleMaker, Randon Commentary, CareyCarey, M. Crew Lite and the host of Shadow and Act, Tambay Obenson. All of whom have voiced a beef about Tanya’s ongoings. Some of them appear on Tanya’s tapes, along with Spike Lee, the Rev Al Sharpton, 2 Scandal Gladiators and 10 yet to be identified individuals. Read the above 6 posts for deeper details. Stay tuned. Who’s on the tapes? What’s on the tapes!!?? Why were they visiting Tanya? Who shot Tanya? What Happened To Miss Steele continues…

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Poor Blackman, didn’t know Sergio was not a man to take lightly. But he could not have known or even suspected that Sergio would kill to protect his new find. However, Sergio knows he has to be more careful. Three people where now dead, quite possibly because of the secret tapes now in his hands. He could be the next victim. So quickly he gathered the tapes, numbering them each with a secret cord word. Late into the night and early morning, he tried to identify all the individuals who had visited Tanya.

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The house detective, clothed in nothing but his birthday suit, danced around his apartment as if he’d just hit the lottery. The legal peeping tom was in a festive mood as he danced and sang the words "Sergio Mims is my name, peeping in key holes was my game… but since I found Tanya’s secret stash, I now have cash, cash and mo’ cash". His celebration was interupted by a knock on his door. "Who is it" he said in a nervous tone. It’s me, Blackman, let me in, his assistant declared. Sergio wondered what he wanted at 1 AM in the morning. He let him in and told him to have a seat. Blackman went stright to the point. He told Sergio to cut him in or cut it out. Of Course Sergio played the nut role. He asked Blackman what was he talking about? Blackman told Sergio that he had taught him well. While passing by his room he slowed his roll long enough to hear the great news of "their" new find. Sergio admitted that Blackman had heard him correctly, so he suggested they share a drink of cognac to celebrate their new found riches. As the two toasted each other and shared laughed, Sergio asked his assistant if he was a movie fan? Blackman said he was. Sergio said, then surely you’ve seen crime movies in which the bad guys try to out-smart and double-cross each other so they wouldn’t have to split their bounty, haven’t you? Blackman said, yep, I’ve seen plenty of them. Okay, Sergio said, have you seen Kingsman: The Secret Service, starring Samueal Jackson, Colin Fith and Michael Caine? Good movie, Blackman replied. As they each took another sip, Sergio then asked, "do you remember the scene in which Michael Caine was killed"? Blackman’s eyes widened as he tried to answer… he reached for his throat. He, like Michael Caine, had just injested a lethal dose of cyanide, administered by his short-lived partner in crime, the house "dic", Sergio Mims, making it seemingly appear like he had a heart-attack.

Miles Ellison

It sheds light on the fact that she didn’t actually watch the film.

Summer

Very interesting perspective. Sheds light definitely

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As the female body was pulled from the Chattahoochee River, the area detectives got their first major break in the gruesume Atlanta Child murders, the Atlanta police department and Sergio Mims looked on from the bridge. The Knights Mystic Sea Lodge resort’s house detective was called in on the case because the hotel’s limousine driver had taken his passenger to the fatal site. The driver told investigators that the female passenger requested he take a short cut on her way in town for a nght of partying. However, upon approaching the bridge she asked him to stop. She got out, walk to the edge of the bridge and jumped in the river. While the Atlanta police continued talking to the driver, Sergio quietly walk over to the limo and looked inside. There, in the back seat he spotted what he thought was the woman’s purse. Hanging outside the purse was an envelope. He quickly cuffed it. On the way back to his car, in the dim of moon light, he recognized the name. The letter was addressed to… Tanya Steele.

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The Summer of Darkness continues. Who Killed Tanya Steele? As Sergio continued his investigation, it was discovered that Tanya’s penthouse apartment was not only a place to get away from the maddening crowds, it was her… well… Sergio discovered an elaborate surveilance system, loaded in the latest technology. Motion detectors and heat sensor were installed in every room, including the five restrooms in the lavish apartment. What happened to Tanya? The ambalance chasing writer appears to have grown tired of getting high from destroying lives with her wicked pen, BLACKMAIL may have been her new weapon and "drug" of choice. Stay tuned as the house detective goes over the secret film and the newly descovered staircases leading from the penthouse. Who’s on the tapes? Why were they visiting Tanya? What Happened Miss Steele?

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"JUSTICE FOR TANYA… WE LOVE YOU TANYA!". As Sergio begins his interrogations, a small crowd, lead by the reader Yvette Gainier, gathered outside the interrogation room to show their support for Tanya Steele, who was gunned down earlier in the day. Sergio turns to his assistant, Blackman, tells him to breakup that mob of yak-hair wearing women. He then continues his interrogation of the reader Charles Judson. "Come on Charlie, just admit it, you took her out because she wouldn’t reply to your repeated attempts to engage her in a discussion" Charles replies, "if that ain’t the most ridiculous sh*t to kill someone over, I’ll kiss your rusty ass. You should be focusing on a black woman", Charles suggested. "Why is that" Sergio asked. Well, remember her post slamming Viola Davis? Well, she not only kicked Viola like she was a dirty dishrag, she blasted black women for wearing their hair in anything other than an afro. Listen, she said, "black women want to be beautiful, I got that… women want to be admired, I got that"… and then she went on to say, "but at what cost to their pocket books and mental health will they go to look like a white girl". Then she really lowered the boom when she said "America’s Next Top Model" and "Sex In The City" have created (and I should add brainwashed) the poor gullible black woman a culture of black womanhood that has them desparately trying to look like they stepped off of the runway. Black women should wake the fu*k up!". Wow, she actually said that, asked Sergio. Charles said, if you don’t believe me, go read her post on Viola Davis. Look there and you’ll find it fair. But look Sergio, my biggest complaint about Tanya is her hypocritical nature. She writes BS articles like "What Happened Miss Simone", yet, in one post she said "As a black filmaker, I find that I wrestle with thoughts of responsibility; who will see it, what inpack it will have on the discourse in America, what images will I be projecting to our youth/to the world". WHAT?! Give me a freaking break! If she ain’t the pot calling the kettle black, I’ll kiss yo ass 4 times. She has to be the most irresponsible writer on S&A’s staff. Anyway, stop wasting my time, I didn’t shoot Tanya. Sergio was tired of play cat and mouse, so he told Mr. Judson that he’s on tape entering Tanya’s penthouse apartment. Not once, not twice, and in fact, the week prior to the fatal shot, Charles Judson had visited Tanya’s room on several occasions. When given those facts, the normally cool and calm Mr. Judson started trembling. What do you have to say about that, asked the Monsieur Gustave of The Knights Of The Mystic Sea Lodge resort? Charles looked as if he’d been shot between the eyes. Stay tuned.

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Because of the "Roast Beef Scandal", the once owner of The Knights of The Mystic Lodge resort, Tim Moore, aka Kingfish, used the penhouse appartment to "get away" from fans and family. [Flashback] Moore fired a gunshot in his home in L.A. because of his "mooching in-laws" (stepson, stepdaughter, and her husband) when he found that the last of the New Year’s roast beef had been eaten by them. Moore related, "these free-loaders have eaten everything in the house. My wife protects them and every time we talk about it, we get into an argument. The argument got a little loud and the next thing I knew, the big boy (his stepson Hubbard) jumped out of his chair. I ran upstairs and got out my old pistol. I didn’t want to hit anybody, but he was disrespecting me in my house. When the police arrived at the home, Moore, pistol still in his belt, told them, "I’m the old Kingfish, boys. I’m the one you want. I fired that shot. I didn’t want to hit anyone, although I could have. Anyway, you should have seen the in-laws scatter when I fired that gun." The shot Moore fired hit the china cabinet; he was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, with police calling him the "funniest prisoner in police history." Moore was initially ordered held on $1,000 bond; the judge changed his mind and released Moore on his own recognizance. Moore entered a not guilty plea before the case went to trial. He received a $100 fine and a year’s probation as his sentence. So his penthouse apartment was his sanctuary and a place he could mingle with every day folk. He did this by leaving his penthouse through a secret staircase which lead to… none other than room 202. He departed the room wearing various disquises. One such "character" came from his 1946 movie he starred in as Bumpsie in the musical comedy film, Boy! What a Girl! Of special note, the character Bumpsie set a tone for future actors dressing in drag. So now we have a secret staircase leading to room 202, the room in which Tanya Steels’s body was found. Who knew about this secret passage? Is that why on the night of her death,several people were seen entering Tanya’s upstairs penthouse apartment, but never seen leaving? Did the house detective, Sergio Mims, know of it’s existence? If so, how long? Was Tanya actually shot in room 202? Who actually opened the door at room 202 prior to the fatal shot? Who visited Tanya’s penthouse apartment that day, that week, and why? Stay tuned. What Happened To Tanya Steele? What Killed Tanya Steele? Who wanted Tanya silenced and why?

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What Happened Tanya Steele? How could Ms. Steele afford the penthouse apartment at the lavish Knights Of The Mystic Sea Lodge resort? The lodge, turn resort, was build and previously owned by the first black TV star, Tim Moore, known to most as the infamous character George Steven, aka, the "Kingfish" of the televison series Amos ‘n Andy. Tim Moore came from humble beginings. Two parents, 12 brothers and sisters lived close by the Mississippi River in upstate Illinois, in a small shack. Having paid his dues on the stage, on the chittlin circuit, movies and television, when wealth finally came his way at the age of 65, he knew the importance of money. He also believed in the saying "a fool and his money will soon part". So instead of buying fast car and marrying white women, as some new money negros were known to do in those days, he invested in land. It was relatively cheap land in those days, far outside the city and unincorporated. On one such purchase he built the now famous Knights Of The Mystic Sea Lodge, in honor of the Lodge in which his character, Kingfish, concocted many of his con games. The resort has seen many changes over the years, and is now the gathering place of the rich and famous beautiful black folks from around the world. Black politicians, actors, pro sports players, heads of states and CEO’s of Fortune 500 companys from around the world, all walk in, take a deep breath and say "Lordy Lordy, good golly miss molly, heaven must be like this. The lobby of "The Knights" resort follows the design of a traditional Moroccan house with an open-air courtyard around a pool of water. It is also guests’ first experience with the incredible hand-done tile work throughout the hotel. Impressively lit with "floating" rings of lights, it is a serene and elegant entrance. At Atlanta’s hot nights and in cooler weather, the temperature of the space is controlled by a "ceiling of air" so that the roof can remain open. It is more than a hotel, it is an experience. Tanya Steel was the occupant of the spectacular penthouse apartment. The top floor only accessible by a personal elevator and only operated by a personal key. Yet, Tanya Stelle, a starving independent writer, was know the queen bee of that space. How was that possible and why was she receiving visitors and mail in room 202? It was noted that she arrived at the hotel one week prior to the event, as not to be noticed and recognized by the hordes of Scandal fans, fans who knew by her writings that Tanya harbored no love for the series, and in fact, ripped it apart at every opportunity. Her poison pen also inked nasty and mean comments about the Reverend Al Sharpton, white people in general, Scandal’s Gladiators and Spike Lee. Needless to say, she has left an unsavory taste in the mouth of many, but MURDER!? What happened to Tanya? What Happened Miss Steele? Stay tuned.

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MURDER! Tambay!? How can that be? Tambay does movies, not crime, so he says. But, the question is on the table, who or what killed Tanya Steele? That’s the big question on all the suspect’s minds as they glance around the room, wondering who each of them are, and why would they desire Tanya’s silence? Tambay, as the host of Shadow and Act, recognized the names called in as suspects, yet, for the most part, he didn’t know what they looked like. So as he sat there with the other suspected murders, he tried matching names with each of them. Immediately across from him sat a woman, a very tall woman, a woman Axel Foley of Beverly Hills Cop fame called Brigette Nielsen, a big bi*ch. Not only was she "big" she had a peculiar look about her. She kind of reminded him of Laverne Cox. Oh shit, that must be Mark and Darla, he said to himself. Now, sitting right next to him, and practically upon him, sat a woman who he thought had to be Ms. TroubleMaker, looking and sounding like Gaboury Sidibe (Precious). The odd looking gentleman in the far left corner, who looked like a black Truman Capote… and had the voice of Peter Lorre, he thought, must be the reader Random Commentary. In the far left corner, looking like an aged Huggy Bear and wearing a Steve Harvey style suit, sat a sneaky looking black man, Tambay thought it had to be Ol’ Sckool CareyCarey. Pacing the floor as if a junkie waiting for his next fix, was a tall Vanille Ice looking character with the voice of Bronson Pinchot (Serge of Beverly Hills Cop). He had to be the reader M. Crew Lite. Then there’s Sergio, the lead investigator. He patrolled the establishment with panache and an iron fist, while also offering his special services to "special" female guest… for the right price, of course. They didn’t call him the best house "dick" based solely on his superior investigative skills. But, why would he kill Tanya Steele? Stay tuned. The rest of the suspects will appear, including… the Scorned lovers, one white lurker and the angry Scandal Gladiators.

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The Summer Of Darkness. Some may recognized that title as the very popular series on TCM. Like myself, some may even be huge fans. I know one S&A reader who is, that be our very own Sergio Mims. Anyway, Tanya’s writing as of late and that series, which features the very best in film noir, has inspired me to write this… well, lets just call it… well, I am going to title it "Who Killed Tanya Steele". See, based on Tanya’s problem with the title "What Happened Miss Simone", and her recent desent into madness writing, other titles came to mind, such as "What Happened Miss Steele", "What Happened To Tanya" and "The Odessey Of The Weak Table". The latter was inspired by Ms. Steele’s penchant of dropping unsubstantiated and unsupported alligtions about people, and never coming back to support her claim or defend her position. Nope, notta, never has she came back to address the concern of S&A’s readers, or conceded a point when she was clearly wrong. Hence, a table (platform) with a weak leg, forcing it to drop mess on the floor but never cleaning it up. However, in an effort to stay true to the theme "Summer Of Darkness" and my love of dark Film noir movies, I submit the script of the fictional movie "Who Killed Tanya Steele?". The Year is 2015. We’re in the new black film mecca, Atlanta Ga. Blacks from every walk of life have gathered at the famous Knights Of The Mystic Lodge. The event is the annual celebration and appreciation for the fans of the hit TV series Scandal, now going on its 4th season. Expected guests include the cast of Scandal, Spike Lee, Lee Daniels and the cast of the other mega-hit Empire. Shadow & Act’s crew is also on the guest list. It has been rumored that since the President of the USA and the first Lady are fans, they may be in the audience. The story begins with a bellhop walking briskly through the lobby with a tray about his head, he speaks "Call for Tanya Steele… message for Tanya Steele". We then see a dark figure peering down from the balcony. They place a call on their cell phone. A phone rings at the front desk. The clerk says, "Yes, I’ll see that he does that". The clerk beckons the bellhop. She leans over and whispers… "rush that to room 202". Next we hear a knock on a door. It’s room 202. The door slowly open. A gloved hand slowly reaches out from behind the door. As the hand gets within an inch of the "package/message" a shot rings out! The bellhop screams, drops the package and runs away. The door closes with only the gloved hand extending out. The house detective, Sergio Mins, is first on the scene. He struggles to push the open as the body lays on the other side. Once inside he turns to his assistant, the reader Blackman, and says matter of fctly "she’s dead, gunshot to the head, I believe it’s the writer Tanya Steele". He calls for an immediate lockdown as he processes the dead woman’s room. The next scene opens with an annoucement over the lodge’s speaker system. All guest are premitted to leave except the following, who are requested to attend an investigative meeting in the upper boom-boom room that was previously schelduled to host that night’s entertinment, which included the young musical talent of the hit series "Empire", Mary J Blige, Ledisi, and Charlie Wilson for the old school crowd. But now, the list of suspects was now tonights only entertainment. Slowly they were annouced. Charles Judson, Mark & Darla, Tambay Obenson, TroubleMaker, M. Crew Lite, CareyCarey, 1 white S&A lurker, the Rev Al Sharpton, 2 Scandal Gladiators/Scandalistahs, 2 Scorned lovers, 1 male, 1 Female, who only the house dick, Sergio, knew of and Spike Lee. There’s one suspect whose name was not called. Although he is paid to do his job, maintaining order and such, the legal peeping tom, aka gossip hound and private dick, wasn’t above earning an extra buck by any means necessary. He loved women, movies and money, and thus, he was not above bribery or false witness. A Phillip Marllow type for sure, Sergio Mims was not only the lead investigator, he was also a prime suspect. The first guest called in was the mysterious couple and avid S&A readers Mark & Darla. Were they brother and sister, lovers, or as Sergio has suggested, were "they" actually the transgender Mark, who now goes by Darla? They will be followed by the jealous wannebe writer, CareyCarey, who has openly voiced his disdain for Tanya’s current affairs. He will be followed by Charles Judson who has, on numerous occasions, told Tanya to stop using S&A’s stage for her personal agenda. The first episode will close after the grilling of the reader TroubleMaker. She’s the black militant type who shares no love for lightskinned women or those who are down with the swirl. But the question is. why would any one of them hope to silence Tanya Steele? Well, we will soon find out as Sergio begins his interogations and the character’s background are revealed. STAY TUNED! Who Killed Tanya Steele, and why?

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CareyCarey

Now that the dust has cleared… "I was going to pick this review apart, but after reading all the comments above, hopefully Ms. Steele will get the news" by the reader "Jack". Well HELLO!, Jack, and Thank You! Listen, having read every Shadow & Act piece penned by Tanya, I knew going in that I had to read this one with an "open" mind. In fact, I read this article before viewing the doc. Then, while watching it… OMG! I said to myself "WTH was she watching?" and "why Tanya, why did you "really" write this piece?". Anyway, as I read the comments, it was refreshing to know that many others (very good writers I must add) felt as I, and it wasn’t just the residue of contempt I’ve found for Ms. Steele’s writings/opinions as of late (her last 5 articles). And, I really do not get a thrill from saying that because I once was a HUGE Tanya Steele fan. But, as I love saying, what about a time called now. Now, my "Thank You" goes out to the following readers for THEIR "critique" of this piece and the documentary. Thank you Chris Albertson (5 star comment), Jeremy, Walter, Haniff Cruse, Rivly Breus, Hanifah Waldah, LMG, PJ and Ruby, thank you all for your insightful and well written comments. And a special heads-up and "LOL" goes out to Miles Ellison for his comment "This criticism is reminiscent of her critique of Orange is the New Black. She didn’t actually watch that either". Too funny, and sadly, too true. Hey Tanya, come on, your agenda is showing waaaaay to much. Step back, take a deep breath and listen, really listen to what Jack and others are saying, "hopefully Ms. Steele will get the news". In other words, don’t rest on the kindly pats on your back b/c there’s no growth there. Serendipitous rewards will be found in the not-so admiring comments. Try them, please.

Thayná

thank you so much for this article!

Allison

Thanks for this critique of the Garbus documentary. What struck me with the portrayal of NS was her isolation. Her involvement with the civil rights/black consciousness mint was a point where she was less alone. Interesting analysis, no? Saw this movie around the same time I saw Love and Mercy-the biopic of Brian Wilson. Mental illness and creative expression are key themes in both films.

ALS

I read this piece a while back and expected nothing but the worst for the doc but, after watching it this past weekend with my wife I don’t see what the problem is. This documentary was brutal truth warts and all and it featured her daughter who herself said they got it right. Even husband was on there and admitted to beating Nina. I like docs like this and not the big fluffy lies that are constantly put out to hide facts. Nina Simone was the High Priestess and no one can take that from her or even come close to dethroning her because she sang from the heart and she was down for her people even though she knew they are going to die. This documentary was good in my opinion and I hit the play button with fist clenched and expecting the worst but it was what was needed to be told.

tanya steele

I feel you, Luiza, Russell, FB and Nia! The comment section, ever interesting. Always encouraging to see that people are engaged. Thanks for sharing and reading to all of you.

Gee

Your blog is BS! The documentary was brilliant!

maria

I don’t think this writer is able to view it in a constructive way, her comments seem to stem from her own personal feelings, I did not come away feeling Nina was crazy or scary, I actually was blown away at her strength and ability to weather so many storms. I felt sad hearing what happened in Paris but it could happen to anyone, for me her work in the civil rights movement and wanting to return to Africa prove she was trying to stay true to herself, fame was not her main focus, that should not be seen as a failure but rather the failure of the system and the times as didn’t want to give voice to the artist to speak their truth..I also agree with you on her daughters comments I saw a lot of domestic violence as a kid too and can honestly say we can spot the dynamics even at young ages. The only comment I found insensitive was when her daughter said she thought they were both nuts, that sounded disrespectful as Nina did have mental health issues, not sure the father did? Overall for me it showed her resilience, strength, fragility as well as genius and that she deeply needed to be loved.

Mel

I had not seen it yet but this is a great article and criticism. I look forward to the day her beauty, magnificence, genius, and complexity is portrayed as she deserves. Two too many flawed ones at this point…

Hanifah Walidah

<<breathe>> This review is just wack. People always looking for a reason to write a damn blog post. You are reaching like a mofo. I’m sorry, i did not watch and see this film in the same light as you. I thought the documentary was refreshing and well directed.

As an artist, I found it refreshing that they talked about how she filtered the world around her. I seriously related to that. Yes she was a genius pianist, songstress, interpreter, thinker. She also was very sensitive to her surroundings and very much present at all times. This writer never defines genius and just throws the word around putting her in a place that is often more damaging to artists. You are writing as a fan, not an artist who takes the stage.

You dissed this film because you felt that her husband shouldn’t have spoken since he was her abuser. Her ex-husband didn’t speak on his abuse he spoke about how he thought her involvement in the movement affected his career. That’s about it. And I’m grateful for what he did say. It gave me a perspective about her choices to commit to the movement. How as artists we can dive in despite the consequence. It spoke to her bravery and his one track minded ness. You stand there judging her daughters recollection. Who are you to judge her experience or her description of it. We’re you raised by Nina Simone?

Ok, so you thought the mentioning of her being bipolar detracted from her genius. Her being bipolar wasn’t mentioned until way towards the end of the film. Which allowed us to experience her journey as a musician, fame, a genius, a mother, A PERSON, not some mystical magical “genius” held atop a todem pole. We were witness to the decisions she made, her courage and yes her abuse. But hearing that from one of her best friends and musical muses was incredibly touching. You dismissed that. DO you know what is to have a lifetime musician that can read your thoughts on stage. Have you ever experienced that. Then to so easily dismiss what he has to say. Psst. You’re talking out ya ass ab it here.

The editing brilliance to have her daughter speak of her mother as she came to know her up until discovering she was bipolar was brilliant. What I experienced mirrored back at us was the journey many of us go through when remembering/resenting our upbringing and then finding forgiveness and peace with our parents.

This writer is whacked and looking for some shit to

Juanjo

This documentary is what it is. What you are describing as what it should’ve been is another movie.

Tracey R.

I must say this. Mental illness is not a coat that one puts on and takes off at will. It would seem that Ms. Simone more than likely suffered from mental illness, yet was not diagnosed until her late thirties or early forties. With that knowedge, every detail about he rlife has to be viewed through that lens of perspective. You cannot separate her life from her disease. On domestic violence: I thought it was interesting that Nina Simone’s husband was interviewed and that he was candid. Many abusers do not admit to perpetrating acts of violence upon their victims. Instead of saying it never happened or threatening the filmmaker with libel, Mr. Stroud acknowledged a truth. I thought it was an interesting case study of how abusive men think. A sanitized version of Nina Simone’s life story is what some folks want and wouldn’t that be a disingenuous thing to do? Furthermore, the title of the doc is from a Maya Angelo poem.

belmont1929

These are important questions but I think these questions come from unreal expectations of a biographical film. When we deal with revered figures who’ve been celebrated for their image we always have trouble with any depiction that doesn’t support that view. Aside from that some of the observations are very compelling. In my opinion this was more of the daughter’s story and it was Liz Garbus’ task to make her believeable as an informant, but that didn’t happen. Also, I don’t agree that the husband was allowed to tell the story. I don’t think we see the husband succeeding in tarnishing Nina’s legacy, instead he confirms on screen that he drove her to exhaustion, beat her when it suited him and brutalized her in other ways. Allowing him to implicate himself while actively trying to blame Nina was a perfect strategy. The daughter confirmed his abuse as did a member of the band, and as did Nina in her letters. How is this allowing her abuser to tell her story? If nothing else this adds to the story the director wanted to tell. I don’t want to go through each of the arguments but I think the more salient questions are: why didn’t Garbus talk to Simone’s brother who was close to her and worked with her as confidant and agent trying to help her solve her tax and other financial problems? Her brother, a licensed psychotherapist, also has letters and documents that might have produced a more credible documentary that wasn’t twisted into a pretzel to support a daughter’s personal perspective?? Again, folks should endeavor to read (numerous biographies, essays, etc.,) that would provide more context for our expectations and keep us from assuming we’ll see 360 degrees of a person in a biopic.

LMG

While I agree there were some cringe-worthy depictions of Nina’s abuse and those involved’s perspective of it, I disagree with the author of this piece here. I thought the documentary did a good job of illustrating the lack of support Nina had around her by letting you see what her perpetrator husband and survivor daughter thought of her when she was alive, those closest to her. The director trusted the audience to show how having so little support for her genius from without and within, beyond the ways it could be exploited, assisted in exacerbating her mental illness. Through this lens, we get to see what kind of energies and perspectives of her surrounded Simone and her diary entries serve to further illustrate how their lack of support drove her to madness. Repeatedly, the director leaves it to the audience to decide for themselves how much Nina played a role in her own fate and how much it was driven by the 11 or so people who ate off Simone’s genius and ran her ragged. I appreciated that trust. I also appreciated not having a sanitized version of Simone, which appears to be what this reviewer was seeking. You can’t say you wanted greater insight into Nina’s genius process and then later admit that how geniuses do what they do is unknowable. Besides, there were various points throughout the documentary where that genius is declared and exalted, and several highlighted examples of what made what Nina did genius (e.g., Miles Davis stating how Nina’s song interpolations were innovations, others describing how her incorporation of classical elements into popular song were fresh in popular song, etc.) and what it cost her to share it in the ways that she did. I think the film worthy of critical analysis, but I didn’t find the work as problematic as this critic.

Rivly Breus

This observation is very negative. I do not think we watched the same film.

Nina Simone in her diary as it was being written on screen said that she in a way liked the abuse and that is why she stayed for such a long time. I guess it fueled her in a way or gave her an adrenaline rush.

Do you remember her stating in the documentary her obsession with sex, and how she too became brutal with him for sexual pleasures? Of course not to undermine what she suffered from him because that was a tragedy in itself.

What’s significant is the fact that when she was discussing her semi obsession with abuse, that was when her daughter verbalized her feelings about her mother staying in the relationship,.

A child can understand few things, not all, I understood abuse at four years old, believe me. Not the complexities of it all but the simplicities. Remember children are innocent and the way they see the world is in black and white, there are no shades of grey, if something makes you sad or cry it is not good, so leave. I would like to think that life is simple, but humans (adults) complicate things, I learned that from someone actually.

In the case of the tittle, it’s not negative, its not depleting her of her talents, and what she meant for America, its Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou did say, I think in a poem, What Happened Miss Simone?

This is not making reference to her being a bitter, crazy black woman, not at all. This is referencing the sadness, the anger, the end to her passion for music, where she said I hate playing the piano.

What Happened Miss Simone? Are you ok? You are not playing your piano anymore, and you used to love it.

What Happened Miss Simone? Why is your face bruised up? Did someone hurt you? Was it Andy?

What Happened Miss Simone? You left the country? Was it Dr. King’s death that was the final blow?

What Happened Miss Simone? Lisa says you cannot stand the sight of her, and she cannot do anything right in your eyes? Did what Andy do to you; affect you?

What Happened Miss Simone? You are not your usual self, your foot is dragging, and you have lost your finely tuned motor skills? Is it the medication?

Yes I agree it was poor choice casting her ex husband to talk about the inner tunings of their tumultuous relationship. I also would have liked some more information on her parents to see where the bipolar /manic depressive/ disorder originated from, whether genetic or organic or exterior influences.

There are is a myriad of themes in this film, none of which are “let us paint this woman as an evil black devil who plays the piano.”

No.

It depends on who you are and your baggage to say what you will take from the film, for me the most important theme is superficiality.

The woman plays piano for these people, puts on show, and shows them a great time, they leave go home, and forget about her. They do not know what she is suffering from. They do not have to deal with the end result in private.

This is where the genius complex comes in; these people put on “shows” are lauded in public and become “hero-like” in a sense, but then being a genius has its downsides, it is a very lonely life, and the same genius that you are praised for in some cases tortures you internally.

Her voice was heard during the documentary from the last interview she did while alive. Anyone with an ounce of intellectual capacity will understand that this is a genius complex story, not the Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

In fact, I liken her to Nikola Tesla, or Vincent Van Gogh.

She dealt with things that were outside of her reach to remedy, and the highlight of the story as well as the second theme I took from the film was true friendship, love, and support, the friend who got her out of the hell hole she was staying in, stopped her from doing those 300 dollar shows, provided her with a nice place to stay, and had her see a doctor, so she could be diagnosed correctly where her husband or medicine at the time failed to do and get her started on the right medication, so that the pain could be lessened.

I think if you re-watch the film again with the intention of looking for other themes, then you might likely find at least one or two that are very positive.

Rivly Breus

This observation is very negative. I do not think we watched the same film.

Nina Simone in her diary as it was being written on screen said that she in a way liked the abuse and that is why she stayed for such a long time. I guess it fueled her in a way or gave her an adrenaline rush.

Do you remember her stating in the documentary her obsession with sex, and how she too became brutal with him for sexual pleasures? Of course not to undermine what she suffered from him because that was a tragedy in itself.

What’s significant is the fact that when she was discussing her semi obsession with abuse, that was when her daughter verbalized her feelings about her mother staying in the relationship,.

A child can understand few things, not all, I understood abuse at four years old, believe me. Not the complexities of it all but the simplicities. Remember children are innocent and the way they see the world is in black and white, there are no shades of grey, if something makes you sad or cry it is not good, so leave. I would like to think that life is simple, but humans (adults) complicate things, I learned that from someone actually.

In the case of the tittle, it’s not negative, its not depleting her of her talents, and what she meant for America, its Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou did say, I think in a poem, What Happened Miss Simone?

This is not making reference to her being a bitter, crazy black woman, not at all. This is referencing the sadness, the anger, the end to her passion for music, where she said I hate playing the piano.

What Happened Miss Simone? Are you ok? You are not playing your piano anymore, and you used to love it.

What Happened Miss Simone? Why is your face bruised up? Did someone hurt you? Was it Andy?

What Happened Miss Simone? You left the country? Was it Dr. King’s death that was the final blow?

What Happened Miss Simone? Lisa says you cannot stand the sight of her, and she cannot do anything right in your eyes? Did what Andy do to you; affect you?

What Happened Miss Simone? You are not your usual self, your foot is dragging, and you have lost your finely tuned motor skills? Is it the medication?

Yes I agree it was poor choice casting her ex husband to talk about the inner tunings of their tumultuous relationship. I also would have liked some more information on her parents to see where the bipolar /manic depressive/ disorder originated from, whether genetic or organic or exterior influences.

There are is a myriad of themes in this film, none of which are “let us paint this woman as an evil black devil who plays the piano.”

No.

It depends on who you are and your baggage to say what you will take from the film, for me the most important theme is superficiality.

The woman plays piano for these people, puts on show, and shows them a great time, they leave go home, and forget about her. They do not know what she is suffering from. They do not have to deal with the end result in private.

This is where the genius complex comes in; these people put on “shows” are lauded in public and become “hero-like” in a sense, but then being a genius has its downsides, it is a very lonely life, and the same genius that you are praised for in some cases tortures you internally.

Her voice was heard during the documentary from the last interview she did while alive. Anyone with an ounce of intellectual capacity will understand that this is a genius complex story, not the Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

In fact, I liken her to Nikola Tesla, or Vincent Van Gogh.

She dealt with things that were outside of her reach to remedy, and the highlight of the story as well as the second theme I took from the film was true friendship, love, and support, the friend who got her out of the hell hole she was staying in, stopped her from doing those 300 dollar shows, provided her with a nice place to stay, and had her see a doctor, so she could be diagnosed correctly where her husband or medicine at the time failed to do and get her started on the right medication, so that the pain could be lessened.

I think if you re-watch the film again with the intention of looking for other themes, then you might likely find at least one or two that are very positive.

RRC

Thank you for highlighting my concerns about the movie. Love the Chris Brown analogy. Why was the song "Four Women" left out? I felt yucky at film’s end. Had read a biography that was much more balanced.

Carlos

Nina was a very couragous woman e and great artist.

Luiza Botelho Almeida

Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been dying to sit down and write about the absurdity of this film.
I would like to add two aspects to your beautifully written article:
1. the documentary "forgot" to mention that when Nina Simone had a nervous breakdown, she was being chased by the CIA, her life was threatened as she watched all of her friends and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement get murdered in public. It was a real threat, not crazy illusions from a bipolar mind.
2. The fact that the documentary mentions her sexual desires is, at the very least, insulting. When would anyone ever make a documentary about a man and mention that he wanted sex from his wife? Besides, with a violent husband who raped her, no wonder she couldn’t get aroused and didn’t feel that he touched her the right way.
Unfortunately, the documentary is so well done that is tricks us into thinking that it is a great film, a true documentation of the life of Nina Simone. When, in fact, it is a twisted perception of a genius and strong woman who did not deserve to be depicted in such way.
Very sad and disappointing.

Drea d'Nur

Nina Simone’s own words stated that she liked physical violence at one point. And many other times it stated that when he beat her she felt like nothing. It took everything out of her. I didn’t see her as another abused black women. I saw her humanity. Did you feel that way when you watched Tina Turner? The reality is, abuse was a part of her story. Joe Jackson was a part of Michaels story. And while Ninas ex husband/manager was my least favorite character in the documentary, he was a large part of her story. He was absolutely insane. And hearing him talk casually about slapping her bloody as she held their baby, made me despise him more and live Nina More. I saw her a stronger. I saw her as a hurting woman. I saw as doing all that she could to live theu such tumultuous times. And whether you like it or not, Lisa needed to speak and has a right to tell her side.

I wanted to know more about her mother. Her family. There’s a documentary online about when Nina returns home. And you see her reminiscing. This movie made me love her more.

Linda Rosenblatt

check out The Amazing Nina Simone, a documentary that was in the making before the daughter released What Happened. The Amazing Nina Simone gives the audience exactly what this movie did not, an appreciation for the legend that was Nina Simone, respect and admiration for the power and genius that was Ms. Simone. It speaks on the music and artistry of who she was. Please take your time to look into this film. If you live in NYC, there will be a free screening Sunday July 12th at Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem at 6:30pm with music too.

JACK

I was going to pick this review apart, but after reading all the comments above, hopefully Ms. Steele will get the news. It’s not always wise to share your immediate emotional reactions with strangers ( I had to learn that the hard way, myself. lol ) You probably should have waited a few weeks longer until your emotions settled down a little, and really thought about how you were going to convey your emotions through a somewhat more logical argument about the film in question. I love your passion and most of your essays on political and social issues that effect the black community, but I must say you kinda missed the mark on this one. My wife and I watched it this morning and both of us felt that it was a brilliant and most crucial film. It is also important that it was released right on time as to put the Zoe Saldana thing in check, before it comes out later this year and causes all kind of confusion. What this film does is also leaves room for you (or me for that matter) to make our own Nina films that explore the aspects of her life that we want to highlight. Maybe you could make a film where the opening scene is a dream sequence of Nina chopping her husband up with a red black and green handled Machete, or a group of young, gifted and black students giving him a beat down for Nina, or some kind of cathartic ritual reenactment to avenge the battered spirit of the High Priestess of Soul, or something to get pass the place where you are getting stuck in Nina’s story. Yeah, her husband was a violent, ex-cop, bully-type, but his presence in the film doesn’t over shadow the heroine of the story. This film has laid a foundation and opened the gate for us to bring Nina out of the shadows and into the light for now and future generations to dig, but it shouldn’t be seen as the be all to end all. "What Happened Miss Simone?” is just the beginning.

Greg

"We expect less of Black women." – Who’s this "we"? Do *you* expect less of black women? Do the people in your family "expect less of black women"? Because I don’t; and I think it’s presumptuous to think that ANY black viewer of this doc who is impressed & moved by it has a dim view of black women (black women in the audience included). This is pathetic, reactionary nonsense, and the worst of it is that it sells black people short. Save the armchair psychology: it’s reductionist and insulting.

Not long ago I watched Liz Garbus’ Bobby Fischer Against the World, which is the story of another genius even *more* troubled than Nina Simone (he celebrated the 9/11 attacks, and ended up a wanted man). It is a great doc. That one and this new one are *illuminating* re mental illness and human nature. I can’t even imagine where this dim reading of Garbus comes from. She’s a hell of a lot more charitable and honest than that. To anyone who hasn’t – Just see the film.

Matt B

It was problematic to allow the husband so much screen time, but how could the filmmaker ignore him when he knew her so well? Same with the daughter, who was the executive producer of the film, how could a director not give her the chance to air her perspective? I think the strength of the film is that it allows all of the people it portrays to be complex and human, and I certainly took what he was saying with a grain of salt.

Angela

The quote from Maya Angelou is shown at the beginning of the documentary.

Artellia

Brilliant

Mandla

I cannot say I disagree with your observation. I believe this focus on her "illness" overwrites the genius she was as a pure artist and devotion to using her artistry in the service of our people especially within the context of that dynamic time during the ’60’s and ’70’s.
My perspective on the documentary’s presentation, I’m sure it wasn’t the documentarian’s intent, though was that with her personal and professional life so negatively impacting her, then her consciousness of how our people "exist" in this country, something she absorbed in totality, things fell apart. We say about us that with all that our people have been through, we should have fallen apart, but, what makes us absolutely beautiful is that we have not. I take from the film that, in some ways, Nina represents what has happened to some of us, but seems like should have happened to all African people in this country, we should have fallen apart from a society that, seemingly from every juncture actively continues to prevent us from one of the most basic objectives of human existence…freedom, as defined by Nina Simone.

Zach

I did have a serious problem with so much of her ex-husband’s perspective being included without any counter-analysis. Clearly you have a man who, even after her death, had no understanding of his wife as an artist and subjected her to extreme stress and abuse. Sure, you get her band members talking a bit about how frightening he was, but the doc just puts his baseless opinions out there and hopes the viewer will pick up on his cluelessness. However, it would have been a better statement of support for Nina’s legacy to have spent more time calling Andrew out for his extreme negative effect on her career and health.

Ruby

In addition, the daughter’s perspective & the ex-husband’s are not the voice or perspective of the filmmakers. They are included, like everyone else in the film, so we can understand what some people in her life observed, thought & felt. If her daughter wonder why she didn’t leave that doesn’t mean the filmmakers wonder the same thing, just that that is an incredibly common question & frustration from children of domestic abuse. We, as an audience, know the many reasons the abided feel they cannot leave & then don’t they quote Simone on some of the threats her husband conveyed if she’d leave him? At any rate, the film was more balanced & complicated than I had expected, but the author seems to only want Simone’s perspective, which would have made for a less interesting & dynamic portrayal.

Ruby

I feel like the essayist watched a different documentary than me. This film absolutely conveyed & focused on her genius, but it would be disingenuous to watch a movie that didn’t talk about her abuse & mental illness. It’s part of her story & part of her music. No one watched this movie & walked away thinking her husband was a good guy, in the right or justified. If anything, I was shocked he was willing to admit all this & paint himself says such a monster. I don’t think her daughter blamed her for being abused. I think her daughter was appropriately horrified by her parents relationship & her difficult childhood. This was a doc about Nina Simone’s life & music – it sounds like the author wants a doc only about her music, which is a different kind of project. As for her problem with the title, if the essayist had paid attention to the beginning of the film, she’d have noticed it’s from a Maya Angelou poem. I think the title was appropriate because it is a movie that makes on think about the larger contexts – the lasting impact of rape, domestic abuse, racism, murder of those around you in the movement, years fighting for your rights & then years on early & often unsuccessful bipolar medication. Angelou & the filmmaker asked what happened because Simone went through so much & it is reflected in her music, which, when presented together as it is in this film, leaves no doubt of her genius.

Russell Sparks

Wow, i’m grateful you wrote this. I had similar instincts from the beginning of watching the movie. Liz Garbus is falling short, caught in the neurosis and missing the transcendence: who wouldn’t struggle with being a public, artistic, cultural critic with such passion in an insane world? Thank god Nina Simone and other visionaries can weather the storms to deliver their messages. Thanks, Tanya!

fb

I couldn’t agree more. Thank you very much!!! The voice of the abuser gave a very bad taste in the mouth. And as we know 30-35% of returning soldiers are diagnosed with bi-polar disorder from traumatic experiences, as opposed to about 3% in the general population. To give him the voice in here is disgusting. Someone said it must have been to get access to some archival footage, but c’mon.

Exulansis

Although Liz Garbus may not have been the perfect story-teller, I thought the documentary was compelling. The allegations that Nina made against his ex-husband were pretty heavy and viewers would likely want to hear his side of the story since he’s still alive. To me, Liz Garbus selected interview highlights that reaffirmed Nina’s diary entries about Stroud: On camera, Stroud cavalierly admitted assaulting Nina in front of their child, he seemed paternalistic and disdainful when talking about Ms. Simone’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement at the expense of her marketability. He honestly came off as someone who had controlling tendencies. Lisa admitting that both of her parents were "crazy" doesn’t absolve Stroud of his role in physical, emotional, or financial abuse. It was simply a daughter admitting that BOTH of her parents had issues. This dialogue seems to neglect that Lisa was also a victim of abuse. In any case, at the rolling of the credits, I was even more in awe of Miss Simone’s immense talent, activism, and beautiful spirit so I consider this a win.

mroop

"Liz Garbus could not convey that because she is not that."

Very good movie, horrible review. I don’t have an hour to pick apart this silly screed, so I will simply note that your contention as quoted above is just plain silly.

OlgaF

Yes! and thank you. Also, to SRR’s question. I need to watch this again but was the connection of title to Ms. Angelou ever explained? What was the context for the question? I felt the title made her an object. It read like- what’s wrong with you? The film when on to address Ms. Simone in that manner.

Chris Albertson

The "Excellent observation" remark was for some reason posted here, but it was meant to go elsewhere, so don’t thank me. In fact, my opinion of your piece is exactly the opposite. I think Nina would have agreed—she valued honesty. I wonder why you deleted my original post… Nina would not have appreciated such censorship, You need to find another profession if you can’t face the facts you write about, Ms. Steele.

Ka

This was produced by her daughter. If anyone gets to decide how her story is told it is her. Notably, her biography goes into greater detail about her troubled marriage and relationships with family. To me these details add texture and in no way mar her legacy.

Random Commentary

I’m just trying to get some clarity. Are you implying ALL MEN are the guilty party in Domestic Abuse? I guess when high profile athletes and celebrities are exposed in their personal lives it’s so clear cut whose at fault. So I guess when Mary Woodson White threw boiling hot food at Al Green that was OKAY. When Lorena Bobbitt emasculated John Bobbitt that was okay. When Sashel Kazemi killed Steve McNair that was okay. When Toni Cato Riggs killed her husband Anthony Riggs for insurance money that was okay. I guess when Solange assaulted Jay Z that was okay. When Robin Givens humiliated Mike Tyson that was okay. I guess going by the logic of your article none of the women were complicit in these circumstances either.

Miles Ellison

This criticism is reminiscent of her critique of Orange is the New Black. She didn’t actually watch that either.

Chris Albertson

The Nina Simone documentary was often painful to watch, but only because it was commendably honest. It is a fine film… but if you have your head stuck in the sand… Tanya Steele’s blinders should disqualify her from writing such biased crap as we have in this piece. What happened, happened…I saw some of it happen over the years (having met Ms. Simone in 1960). You can be sure that she herself would not wish for the truth to be hidden by anybody.

NE PA

Consider, though, that Simone’s daughter is an executive producer of this movie. The title of the movie, as well as representation of the father and the marriage as a whole, had to get the thumbs up from her. So it is a mistake to imply that this depiction of Simone is somehow more flawed. Why is the husband allowed to tell his version? Well, for starters, maybe because the daughter is a producer, she doesn’t bear a grudge, and he was who she turned to when Simone began beating her daughter.

Ashe Cooper

There were moments of sheer directing brilliance in What Happened Miss Simone? Particularly the opening scene that we return to later in the film. Its a haunting beginning and even more poignant when we see the rest of the interaction play out later in the film. My critique is of the influence of the "Estate of Nina Simone" on the film and what compromises had to be made in order to gain access to exclusive material. For example the house in Mt. Vernon didn’t just disappear; Simone did not turn up broke in Africa by accident; her abusive husband clearly had a firm hand on the money Nina Simone made and it seems that after their divorce she was destitute becasue of it. Why wasn’t there a more rigorous look into her fall into poverty? And why the single interview with the daughter- who is credited as an Executive Producer? Did she have creative control? The duaghters of Malcolm X are certainly not the only people who have on outsiders view on Nina Simone, her husband and daughter, where are those voices?
The unfortunate result of leaving obvious conflicts of interest unaddressed is that you are left with an incomplete story with holes you could drive a truck through. I expected more inquiry and less acquiescence from Liz Garbus.

Frank Williams

As a musician (Flutist, since age 12) I appreciate your observation of this documentary even though Nina Simone deserves all of the attention & acclaim the media can bestow, painting her genius (which in my opinion happens when an artist moves the art form forward causing a permanent paradigm shift) as crazy, does a disservice to the intellectual strength that it takes to be extraordinary artist let alone live in the times of Nina Simone. Her lack of psychological balance (bi polar disorder) should not be used as the prism to which her legacy is viewed. The ultimate disrespect is shown in this documentary by the director who chooses to glamourize Nina’s moments of disfunction without teaching a lesson of redemption & self actualization through maturity & reflection to future generations & audiences. Although unbalanced artistry is common it is not something that one is to be proud of or heralded posthumously for.

stop it

Nina was a manic depressive! This means she went from soft moods to raging moods; I have been in the presence of people with these types of mood swings; It is an awful experience; If I did not know any better I would pull a gun on them too; to the writer; stop looking for reasons to be outraged and study the effects of mental illness; Besides, WHO can live with a brilliant artist?

DJ

"What they fail to convey is that both Parker and Simone created music that did not exist prior to their existence."
This type of hagiographic statement actually dilutes your statement. The term "genius" is tossed about to sentimentally nowadays. Instead of allusions to originality or first in creation, why not, she was wildly gifted at craft, configuration and reconfiguration? That does not diminish her talent and contribution a bit. The now overused term "genius" does.

Vichus

Yes, SRR, thank you for that info:

"A title taken from a 1970 Redbook magazine article by Maya Angelou"

"We expect less of Black women." Who’s "we" black woman? You’re talking about the American media, because I sure as hell expect the world of black women, because they’ve already shown me the heights they can climb.

The more witnesses you have to an event, the better a picture you create. Some people might remember it wrong, some people might lie, some people might skew it to make themselves look better, but if they were there, do they not matter to the story?

I haven’t seen this, so maybe it’s a bad doc, but I thought that would be the basic guideline to telling a story, that if one person controls the narrative, then you have only one perspective.

No, I wouldn’t want a Rihanna documentary where Chris Brown talks for an hour and a half, but I wouldn’t want a doc where he cannot speak for himself, but he’s available to comment.

Larry Jennings

My suggestion: Raise money and make the film you want to see. The all-consuming melodrama of this critique is embarrassingly unbalanced. We may not appreciate the way the story was told but it’s a perspective not a total representation of the genius woman. Even the roman soldiers stopped banging the nails once Jesus was firmly attached to the cross.

Rich Kane

I’m eager to see this and always love to reading reviews that throw out a counter argument against blanket praise. But I would suggest, isn’t this ‘against all odds’ arc typical of such standard docs? I mean, they even attempted that in the I Am Big Bird, asking us to feel sorry for this guy because his marriage broke down. Quite simply there was nothing else in his private life they could focus on to provide some sort of pain for his ‘art’. These docs always look for an angle and isn’t this ‘insane’ one perhaps searching for a different take away from the activist role she is more renowned for?

Ije

The purpose of a documentary is to reflect the life of a person and it doesn’t have to be perfect. I believe it’s to show us that even though they be celebrities, they didn’t live the best of lives. Matter of fact, knowing about her abuse makes me value and respect her more.

Rashaan

As soon as I saw the title I knew It wasn’t worth putting myself through it

nia

I too found the narrative problematic, and felt that her husband’s commentary was an extension of the abuse and control he employed throughout her career. I did, however, appreciate her story, set as it was in the civil rights movement, as a metaphor for the black struggle itself, particularly the struggles of black women whose lives and contributions were diminished by the light shone on male leaders, orators, and victims. I agree that her journal could have been enough. Her daughter seemed to use her place in the documentary to work through her own issues with her mother and her father. Perhaps that was not the best venue for that. The lack of sensitivity shown by Liz Garbus suggests a certain cultural/artistic voyeurism that denies Ms. Simone the respect and critical study she deserves.

aaron overfield

It’s probably too easy for me to dismiss the author of this piece since she also penned an article in defense of Cynthia Mort’s casting of Zoe Saldana to portray Nina…giving it a "wait and see" attitude. Um no. Zoe could hit the ball out of the park performance-wise and she would STILL be the absolute wrong choice to have portrayed Nina in the first place.

Nina was an angry and troubled woman who was also black. That doesn’t play into or further any stereotypes because it’s precisely what she was. Tanya’s entire argument backs us into a discursive corner in which Nina should have somehow been presented differently so as to avoid stereotypes. The problem with that is it wouldn’t have been Nina’s story.

Nina was also volatile, aggressive, violent, and at times abusive. Acknowledging that doesn’t abdicate Andy Stroud of any responsibility for his abuse against Nina. In no way did Liz Garbus play apologist for Andy. She allowed footage of him to speak for itself — footage in which he flat out admitted to abusing Nina. The viewer is fully capable of seeing his acts (and attitude) as what they were: monstrous.

It’s interesting that Tanya interprets even the title “What Happened, Miss Simone?” as somehow blaming Nina for her own mental illness, trauma, or abuse. Or that she suggests even asking that question somehow reduces Nina in any way. Once again, um no.

Having studied every aspect of Nina’s life for nearly twenty years, I can confidently state that one of the questions hanging over her life and career has always been: WHAT HAPPENED??? She all but disappeared from public view in the early 70s. Her health (mental and otherwise) sharply declined. She lost (figuratively and literally) her voice. WHAT HAPPENED?

Despite what others have wanted “What Happened, Miss Simone?” to be, it only strove to be an answer to that very question (a question asked by Maya Angelou, no less). In that regard, Liz Garbus succeeded and succeeded brilliantly.

“What Happened, Miss Simone?” was never meant to be an all out biographical documentary on Nina Simone. We already have “Nina Simone – The Legend” or the Peter Rodis documentary “Nina” if we want a more biographical slant on Nina’s life.

“What Happened, Miss Simone” was meant to be an answer to a question and it’s an answer that — while brutal — was beautifully honest.

Considering Nina’s own brutal and beautiful honesty, Liz Garbus did Nina justice in nearly every sense of the word.

I find it sad Tanya couldn’t see this for what it was and, like with the Cynthia Mort/Zoe Saldana affair, we will simply have to agree to disagree.

Lauren

If anyone in the world had the right to say "They both were insane" it’s their daughter. Her thoughts that her mother invited the abuse was supported by the quote from Ms. Simone’s diary that she loved physical violence. Anyway it’s naive to feel let down in any way when the ugly truth about an cultural icon is revealed. Just because a person is a creative genius does not exclude them from being god awful. Picasso was horrid to his women and children- Gaugin was a pedophile, Marvin Gaye was…well you know where this is going. Fact is if only nice people were artists, there’d be 3 paintings in the museum and one song on the radio.

Sasha

Thank you for this. I was very troubled by Simone’s daughter saying that both her mother and father were "nuts", thereby saying they were both the same. I think there should’ve been some intervention after that statement, by maybe sharing more from Nina’s diary about her victimization by her husband, thereby countering the narrative that her "craziness" invited abuse. You also bring up a good point about the doc not emphasizing the process of how she created her art.

Philip

Strange article. I watched ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ last night and was moved to tears by the creative power of a genius. Literally, the act of Ms. Simone’s singing—the sheer power of her artistry—made me weep. Ms. Simone, like many great artists, was a deeply (and sometimes darkly) complex woman. In this film, the portrayal of her complexities do not detract from her genius, they underscore it. This is quite clear.
Wanting a documentary filmmaker to show you HOW a genius creates genius is, quite frankly, ludicrous. There is no formula, no one simple ‘how’—it comes FROM the artist. Their work is their expression of their life force. Art is wondrous interpretation of experience. Don’t expect a filmmaker to show you HOW…Nina already has—in her music. How fantastic!
Also, the reason why the filmmaker “allows” Ms. Simone’s abuser to tell (part) of her story is simple—Ms. Simone herself allowed her abuser to be a part of her story. This is inescapable. Lastly, all film, art, music, tv, etc is a lie. You can’t expect it to give you truth. EVERYTHING goes through the ‘lens’ of the maker. Just as your article does. If you made a film about Ms. Simone like the one you describe in your blog post, it would be no less true or false—only different. That’s the beauty of life. Nothing is definitive.

berry finco

Methinks yall woulda prefered that tripe Zoe Saldana tried to pass off instead of the words on Nina herself and her daughter which was what 99% of this documentary was. or maybe something that villified everyone but Nina?

haniff crowe

personally i loved this documentary. it wasn’t an end-all-explain-everything-by-absolutist-standards expose, but it was a doc. It was a story of Nina that involved the people closest to her and how they took their relationship to her. It was complex, ugly, jarring, joyous, sad, tragic, frustrating… but that was her life. I wanted to hug her daughter, slap her ex-husband, and play her music nonstop. I didn’t see this film as dismissive of anything–it showed just how hard it was for even the most talented of us to handle mental illness under those circumstances… here was a woman trying to fullfill her own personal career dreams, combined with an abusive spouse, an abusive society that saw women, Black women, dark-skinned black women as lesser… there was no "easy solution" or "simple fix". cmon give this doc more credit. it gave us more than anyone’s given us about Nina since Nina…

Lydia

Hi KELLEE T, Those who have witnessed abuse truly have that thought though: " They’re both insane, …why didn’t she leave?"
.. it’s not so much as irresponsible, but knowing that if the mama had been more brave, been resourceful. .. been stronger; the family could have been saved from the hell… when you are put in or subjected to the hell & emotional trauma & mental scarring of domestic violence – you rue your mama’s instability, weakness, & most of all – having to be a parent as a child… you honestly DO INDEED, see it all in said manner. So it’s not irresponsible, but the reality of being raised in HELL. Hope you now see it more clearly, & with empathy. God bless. ♡

Walter

I think Ms. Steele’s criticism is much ado about nothing. I found the documentary entertaining, moving, and revealing. Her daughter, whose opinion should matter most, didn’t have a problem with the documentary–hence, her appearance in it, so why should anyone else find something to gripe about? I found it interesting there was no mention of her time spent in Barbados, after she left her husband, and had a love affair with the Prime Minister, Errol Barrow. Had that been included, I guess someone would find fault with that, as well.

Jeremy

To begin your analysis of “What Happened, Miss Simone” with a comparison of Rihanna and Chris Brown seems that you are way off the mark of what this film was about.

The title of the documentary comes from a poem by Maya Angelou, which indeed does set up the premise of the film in a succinct manner. This is a film about Nina Simone, a portrait of a woman and her journey through life. You suggest titles “The Genius of Nina Simone” among others, but that is an entirely different film. I believe this is a beautiful and respectful documentary that illuminates the life of Nina Simone. You claim that there should be more information regarding her goal to become the first Black classical pianist, but we have to remember that it was Eunice Kathleen Waymon that was forced to take another path, become Nina Simone, the public figure we know today. There is only a brief mention of her birth name, which I would argue most of the general public does not know. It is impossible to tell the story of any person’s life in two hours. Though this film does it through the narration, the diary, the interviews and more importantly the music. You suggest that the film should have been told exclusively through the diary entries and that you did not care about what other’s had to say about Nina, and only interested in what drove her to create. It sounds like you are not interested in the humanity, the person, the woman in which Nina was.

How do you create a portrait of Nina without noting the abuse, the mental health issues, without seeing her triumphs and failures? If we left out the nasty bits, like the abuse, would that be honest? Jimi Hendrix’s estate has barred almost every film about Jimi’s life because of the drug use, but can you tell his story without it? Can we talk about America without slavery?

I believe this film not only presents a beautiful, insightful and definitive portrait of Nina Simone it allows the viewer to reflect on – mental health, domestic abuse, creativity, to name a few. But more importantly, race, and the struggle that continues today in America. This is a film everyone should see.

Justmy2

Funny, I just saw it last night and wasn’t swayed either way by her daughter’s and ex- husband’s input. They definitely weren’t the most complimentary testimonials, but c’mon this IS Nina Simone we’re talking about. The jury was out about Miss Simone’s sanity and genius WAY before this doc came out. In my opinion, there wasn’t anything the two revealed about her sanity and temperament that the world didn’t already believe about her. No major discovery or revelation there. **This JUST in: water is wet :) **

If anything, the details and journal entries surrounding Miss Simone’s abuse was more damning to her ex-husband’s legacy.

Great conversation!

tanya steele

Kellee, I had the same response!

tanya steele

SRR, yes, I think it did come from one or the other. Not sure. However, one does not have to use it as a title.

SRR

Simone and Lorraine Hansbury), the title’s tone seemed like a respectful invite Miss Simone to tell her own story in her own words, an entry point for her incredible first-person diaries, letters, etc. I’m grateful for your invaluable point that inviting Simone’s husband Andy to speak in the film *did* compromise that title’s premise to prioritize Simone’s viewpoint of her own life experience. The direct address of the title’s question, gave the overriding sense to her absence from the stage was mourned and while recognizing her rightful place among legends like Angelou who asked the question. (1st time comment, not sure how to edit or fix earlier comment)

El

Thank you for putting this into perspective.

SRR

Wasn’t the title directly quoting a question Maya Angelou had asked? As Simone’s contemporary and another genius black woman artist/activist (and without knowing if the two were at all close as say

Kellee T

Im to know that I wasnt the only one who had a serious problem with the way the abuse was depicted. When the daughter said, "They both were insane. And why didn’t she leave…" I wanted to throw my computer down…it was really irresponsible…

tanya steele

thank you.

Chris

Excellent observation.

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