Just released on Netflix, What Happened, Miss Simone? is a new documentary about legendary jazz singer and civil rights activist, Nina Simone. Director Liz Garbus’s previous film, Love, Marilyn, is reviewed at CraveOnline today, with critic Ernest Hardy considering the parallels between these two ostensibly very different women.
“Garbus performed a similar feat in her 2012 documentary Love, Marilyn, which is not as strong a film as Miss Simone (in part because it’s more flat-out worshipful of its subject, its transparent goal being to proselytize on Monroe’s behalf), but still builds an argument for Monroe as one of the most complex, misunderstood pop figures of the 20th century… the film ends up being quite moving, and an interesting complement to the Simone documentary. As Monroe’s insecurities and crippling loneliness are catalogued, and as she is historicized as someone who kicked off America’s sexual revolution while still being exploited and maltreated, you can’t help but juxtapose the battles of the most famous icon of white womanhood with those of Simone.
The singer/activist was making music at the same time Monroe’s career was in full swing, and her career was, in part, about battling the very racial and cultural fetishes Monroe embodied. Similarly, she was never financially compensated commensurate with what her work earned. Both women were self-made artists trapped in and penalized for personas they crafted (brilliantly, consciously but without awareness of the eventual costs); both strove hard to be the best artist they could; both created work and images deeply rooted in American mores and cultural signifiers but that continue to resonate with people around the world; and the internal worlds of both women swirled thickly with the fallout of their childhoods, throughout their turbulent lives. We should refrain from simplistic alignment of the two, but it’s worth noting where they and their work converge in complex conversations (about race, sex, gender, art, power and powerlessness) that won’t be silenced any time soon.”