The Amazing Nina Simone

(USA 2015)

Amazing, indeed– both her talent and her life. This thorough documentary follows singer Nina Simone from her humble beginnings in a tiny North Carolina mountain town where she was Eunice Wayman through her death following a stroke in 2003. A piano prodigy early on thanks to her father– who her brother tells us is where her talent came from– Wayman’s dream of being America’s first black female classical concert pianist was dashed when the Curtis Institute rejected her application. She turned to nightclubs, changed her name to Nina Simone so her mother wouldn’t find out where she was working, and the rest as they say is history.

Director Jeff L. Lieberman touches on a lot of interesting stuff from every period of her life: Simone’s first marriage to a cute but lazy French sponge, her bisexuality, her association with Langston Hughes and MLK, her attitude toward the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, and her mental instability that worsened as she got older. He rounds it out with interviews of those who knew her, music and civil rights history, and academic commentary.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

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