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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?'
To Be Young, Gifted and Black
Written by Nina Simone and Weldon Irvine (as Weldon J. Irvine, Jr.)
Published by EMI Grove Music, Inc./BMI
Performed by Nina Simone, Courtesy of RCA Records
Courtesy of Steven Ames Brown, by arrangement with Sony Music Licensing See more »
Reminder That the Civil Rights Movement Is Not a Thing of the Past
Two of the 2015 Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Feature dealt with artists (specifically singers) who were ultimately undone by their self-destructive tendencies. "Amy" told the sad story of Amy Winehouse, whose struggles with addiction and eating disorders cut her life and career tragically short. "What Happened, Miss Simone?" is about Nina Simone, who used her music to fuel the anger of the civil rights movement until her flame burnt out. Both women changed the nature of their art form; both women were taken from the world much too soon.
But for all the similarities, the stories of the two women are quite different. Amy Winehouse is a pathetic figure. We watch as she passively lets fame destroy her. Nina Simone, on the other hand, is full of rage, rage that vents itself through her music. If Winehouse lets strife happen to her, we get the sense that Simone brings it on herself. It's as if she can't handle the anger that a sense of injustice toward the world stokes inside her and destroys herself as a way to be rid of it.
Watching Simone sing "Mississippi Goddamn" while seeing images of the Civil Rights movement, images evocative of the recent violence toward blacks perpetrated by law enforcement officials throughout the country, brought home to me how far we still need to go in our efforts toward racial equality and why the slogan "Black Lives Matter" should be heeded by all.
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