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What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

Not Rated | | Documentary, Biography, Music | 24 June 2015 (USA)
2:19 | Trailer
A documentary about the life and legend Nina Simone, an American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist labeled the "High Priestess of Soul."


Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 6 wins & 18 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview:
... Herself (archive footage)
Lisa Simone Kelly ... Herself
Roger Nupie ... Himself
Al Schackman ... Himself
George Wein ... Himself
... Himself
Andrew Stroud ... Himself (archive footage)
... Himself
Ilyasah Shabazz ... Herself
Attallah Shabazz ... Herself (as Ambassador Shabazz)
Gerrit De Bruin ... Himself
Eleanor Belinfanti ... Cast
Gregory Marlow ... Cast
Elisabeth Henry-Macari ... Cast: Mrs Mazzanovich (as Elizabeth Henry)


On stage Nina Simone was known for her utterly free, uninhibited musical expression, which enthralled audiences and attracted life-long fans. But amid the violent, haunting, and senseless day-to-day of the civil rights era in 1960s America, Simone struggled to reconcile her artistic identity and ambition with her devotion to a movement. Culled from hours of autobiographical tapes, this new film unveils the unmitigated ego of a brilliant artist and the absurdities of her time. At the height of her fame Simone walked away from her family, country, career and fans, to move to Liberia and give up performing. The story of her life leading up to that event poses the question, 'how does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?'

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Her Story. Her Voice.


Not Rated | See all certifications »





Release Date:

24 June 2015 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Untitled Nina Simone Film  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


The fourteenth Netflix original documentary. See more »


Nina Simone: We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I think we don't have a choice. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?
See more »


Featured in Close Up with the Hollywood Reporter: Documentary (2016) See more »


The Backlash Blues
Written by Nina Simone and Langston Hughes
Published by EMI Waterford Music, Inc./BMI
See more »

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User Reviews

Stars...They Come and Go
17 July 2015 | by See all my reviews

(Rating: ☆☆☆½ out of 4)

This film is highly recommended.

In brief: A documentary that expertly shows the rise and fall of a gifted performer.


A riveting documentary entitled What Happened, Miss Simone? by Liz Garbus shows the tragedy of a singer-songwriter through her journals, interviews, and rare archival footage.The film covers similar ground as we watch the downward spiral of yet another gifted performer.

Talented at a young age and trained as a classical pianist, Nina Simone fought against poverty and prejudice to make her mark in the music industry. Like Ms. Winehouse, Miss Simone was a manic depressive performer on the road to fame and fortune. She too dealt with an abusive family member, her husband and manager Andrew Stroud, had numerous bouts with alcohol and violent mood swings amid her frequent mental disorders. At the peak of her career, her finances were a shamble as was her marriage and she became an advocate for the civil rights movement, although her methods became extremely volatile and radicalized in her later years.

This documentary (never distributed in regional movie theaters and available now on Netflix) uses her concert performances and more archival footage from famous celebrities like Hugh Hefner, Dick Gregory, and Stokely Carmichael to narrate Miss Simone's turbulent life. But the most effective interview comes from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly who narrates the film with a grace and understanding that is genuinely moving. She eloquently reflects back on her life memories about an unhappy home and a mentally ill mother incapable of loving her unconditionally.

Ms. Garbus, the director, offers numerous songs from her repertoire that highlight the talented jazz vocalist, but too often the filmmaker sacrifices these vivid live performances and never plays out the entire concert piece which undercuts the essence of Miss Simone legend. (There is a segment with Miss Simone singing Janis Ian's Stars that is so visceral and raw in its brilliance.) There are also some gaps about certain times in her life that would have been more riveting if the filmmaker have been granted more access to the early archives of this singer. Nevertheless, the film tells a gripping story of a woman who found fame and fortune but lost her way to find real happiness.

Ms. Garbus' tribute to one of the greatest jazz vocalists is worthy of your attention.

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