Netflix and the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented Nina Simone documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” at the Apollo Theater.
Director Liz Garbus was joined by Musicians Usher Raymond, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Al Schackman (Nina Simone’s longtime guitarist/musical director), John Leguizamo and Executive Producers Lisa Nishimura (Netflix VP, Original Documentary & Comedy Programming) and Adam Del Deo (Netflix Director, Original Documentary & Comedy Programming).
Classically trained pianist, dive-bar chanteuse, black power icon and legendary recording artist, Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius and tortured melancholy. In this epic documentary, Academy Award®-nominated director Liz Garbus interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage together with Nina’s most memorable songs, to create an unforgettable portrait of one of the least understood, yet most beloved, artists of our time. The film will premiere in all territories where Netflix is available on Friday, June 26 at 12:01am PT. Netflix will also release the film theatrically on Wednesday, June 24 in New York, and Friday, June 26 in Los Angeles.
Lisa Nishimura: VP of Original Documentaries for Netflix
Q: What is your favorite Nina Simone song?
A: Where to start? “Sinner Man” I would say, which we close the film with.
Q: What do you love most about Nina Simone?
A: I think the thing is that she’s so enigmatic. So, in the course of the film, I think the responsibility in the process of making the film is that she means so many things to so many people on a very, very personal level. So for some she is a true artiste and it’s her music, for others it’s her intense activism particularly in civil rights, so I think it’s about understanding a complete person. There was an incredible level of complexity and a complex level of honesty that she lived her life in and I think most of us aspire to, so I think that’s the thing that really drew us to the story and I think is what resonates for, hopefully, the audience around the world.
Q; How do you think this film with show Nina Simone in a light many people aren’t familiar with?
A: I think some people know her and love her for her music, but they don’t have any idea about her time in Liberia or the incredible sacrifices she personally made within her family, within her community to really stand up for what she felt was the most important issue, which is civil rights. I think being able to, in a very unique way—and this was really all Liz Garbus, the director—is really just an incredible way of handling this sensitive material is she found original journals, she found audio recordings, she found never before seen film footage of Nina and actually allowed Nina to tell the story in first person fashion. I think that level of honesty is a really rare thing in filmmaking.
Liz Garbus: Director
What is your favorite Nina song?
A: I do not have a favorite Nina Simone song; they are all my favorites. But, if you press me to name some of my favorites they are “Four Women,” “Ain’t Got No…,” “I’ve Got Life,” “Sinner Man”—I have many favorites.
Q: What do you love most about Nina Simone?
A: She’s many things. The thing about Nina is that different audiences can find something very different in her. I think some people go to her as a civil rights icon and look for that kind of inspiration of that one hundred percent commitment, other people look to her for love songs, and other people look to her as a woman who experienced struggles. I think she brings so much to so many different people and her prowess as a musician is extraordinary, and what she brought to the music.
Q: How do you think this movie will help show Nina Simone in a light most people might not see?
A: Again, people bring different things to Nina Simone so you go in with a different palette. I think this film will add dimensions to that and will let you see that there is a woman in there far more complicated than you probably expected.
Lisle Atkinson: Bassist
Q: Did you play the Apollo with Miss Simone?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: Tell us about that night.
A: Well, it was a long time ago. I think that was in like 1963, and that was the first time that I had played at the Apollo. And then to be playing with such an artist as she was, it was a very memorable night. I don’t know what we performed but actually the audience was very receptive, so we had to play a lot of the songs that the people knew. You know, I Love You, Porgy, Another Woman, Trouble in Mind, just to mention a few. We played all of that that night.
Q: How long were you with her?
A: Five and a half years.
Q: How do you think she would like to be remembered? Did she talk about her legacy, what she hoped her legacy would be?
A: I would say how she would like to be remembered, she would like to get the props that she deserved. For all the time that she put in and dealings that she had, she would like to be remembered as a great artist, I would say.
Q: Was there one song you particularly enjoyed above others?
A: No, because there were so many. If I had to pick one I would pick “Porgy,” but like I said there were so many it’s hard to pick.
Q: What do you want to know about Nina Simone?
A: Well, first of all, they would have to listen. You know, take the time and listen to this woman. They would have to forget all the bad rumors that were spread through the years and just take a moment and listen to her.
Q: But, she did have a reputation of being difficult.
A: The problem is who is saying she was difficult? Not me. I had no problem.
Q: What do you account for her sudden resurgence of popularity now?
A: I don’t understand because it should have happened a long time ago. That’s hard to answer because it seemed like, to me, it would happen while we were performing all through the years whether I was with her at the time or not. Definitely during my period, but also during other periods with other musicians because every musician she hired was excellent.
Q: And she was sold out everywhere, wasn’t she?
A: Basically, yeah.
Photo credit: Marion Curtis/Netflix