“Nina Simone is as relevant as ever,” says Liz Garbus, the director of What Happened, Miss Simone? a new Netflix documentary, which premiered at the Apollo theater in Harlem on Monday night. Musical stars like Usher, Al Schackman (Simone’s longtime musical collaborator), and Questlove came out in the rain for the occasion.
Garbus let the singer and activist speak for herself in the film, which utilized recently unearthed audiotapes, diary excerpts, and performance footage to help paint a picture of Simone’s struggle to find her own voice and give a voice to African Americans fighting for justice and equality. That fight, Garbus pointed out, continues. The “Mississippi” in Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn,” which is highlighted in the film, could be replaced with any number of the places Garbus listed when asked, “Why Nina Simone now?” “Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Florida, South Carolina, Ohio—we can go on and on. It’s always time for Nina Simone,” she said.
After the film, Lauryn Hill, another woman known for her strong stage presence, performed classics like "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" and "Ain't Got No, I Got Life." And Jazmine Sullivan sang Simone’s 1977 song, “Baltimore,” which seemed particularly timely. At the end of the evening, Hill left the stage with a dedication: “Thank you Nina Simone for existing—and being bold enough to speak."
“What Happened, Miss Simone?” 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.