Nina Simone fans who are leery of the Zoe Saldana biopic Nina take heart: Netflix quietly posted the trailer for What Happened, Miss Simone?, a documentary that has the support of the singer’s estate and features her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly.
“People think that when she went out on stage, she became Nina Simone,” Kelly says. “My mother was Nina Simone 24-7. And that’s where it became a problem.”
Directed by Oscar nominee Liz Garbus, the film — which is coming off an appearance at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — promises to feature rare and never-before-seen footage and tapes as part of a comprehensive look at not only Simone’s professional life, but her activism.
“I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself,” Simone says, amid chillingly-timely footage of police brutality and Black activists marching. “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”
If you are among the folks not feeling Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone, perhaps you’ll dig the High Priestess of Soul as awkward black girl. Shadow & Act reports that a biopic about the legendary author of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry, is in the works, featuring none other than Awkward Girl creator Issa Rae as longtime Hansberry friend, Simone, and Jaleel White as James Baldwin. Billed as a nontraditional biography, the film is being developed by Hansberry’s grand-niece, Taye Hansberry, and Numa Perrier, and cast by Will Stewart, casting director for Scandal.
Above: Nina Simone sings “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” her 1970 song in memory of Hansberry, whose posthumous play by the same name debuted in the late 1960s.
The reality is that what keeps me focused and what kept me from, I guess, getting stressed or being hurt by the comments is that I’m doing it for my sisters, I’m doing it for my brothers, and I don’t care who tells me that I am not this and I am not that. I know who I am, and I know what Nina Simone means to me.
So, that is my truth and that sets me free. And I can only rely on that and maintain as much humility as possible, so that when I have to face the world, and we have to then give the movie to the world to see and share it with them, that if it comes back in any other way, if it comes back in a negative fashion or positive, I’m gonna keep my chin up. Because that’s who I am and that’s who I’ll be and Nina was like that, too.
I did it all out of love–out of love for Nina, out of love for my people and who I am and my pride of being a black woman and a Latina woman and an American woman and that’s my truth.
On-set photo of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone, via Shadow & Act.
Let me just first say that, in all fairness, we don’t know what stage of the make-up process she’s in here. So the final *look* after all the work is done (which may or may not include prosthetics), might be very different from what we see here.
So, I wouldn’t judge based solely on these pictures.
Zoe Saldana (l) and Nina Simone. Courtesy: The Hollywood Reporter.
In case you missed it, Hollywood is gearing up to release a biopic of Nina Simone, an African-American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist whose music was highly influential in the fight for equal rights for blacks in the U.S.
I myself was only introduced to Nina Simone via a remake of her song, “Feeling Good.” I remember jamming to it in my dorm room when a friend of mine remarked that it was nowhere near being as good as the original. I promptly searched for the original on YouTube and was blown away by the command of her voice.
Further searches led me to “Strange Fruit“, a song (based on a famous poem written by Abel Meeropol) she performed about lynchings in the South, along with a slew of other noteworthy appearances that punctuated her career path as a Black woman singer-turned-political figure.
A biopic about Nina Simone will undoubtedly strike a chord with the African-American community. But given the recent controversy surrounding the project’s casting choices (i.e. Zoe Saldana, a Dominican actress as the lead), it’s not likely to be perceived as the “right” chord.