Nina Simone: "How can you be an artist

and not reflect the times?”
By Alexis Magnaval

With The Amazing Nina Simone, the American film director

Jeff L. Lieberman draws a portrait of the soul of a multifaceted

activist and artist.

Competing in the category, Music and Performance, the documentary traces the life of Nina Simone, the "High Priestess of Soul".  As the audience exited The Bellevue Theatre, a few spectators showed their appreciation with approving pats on the shoulder of the film’s director.

Using a large archive of photos, album covers, and a wide range of interviews with her band members, family and childhood friends, Lieberman explores the life of Eunice K. Waymon up until her death in 2003.

Her career, her private life, her political commitments, her health ... The range of the areas covered is remarkable, but probably not enough ground considering the length of the film.

Eunice Waymon could have become the first major black pianist. Rejected by The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, she rebounded from the failure by using her voice. She became Nina Simone: Niña, from the Spanish word (for little girl), and Simone in homage to the French actress, Simone Signoret. Her training as a Classical pianist is a shift from the standard of jazz artists at that time.  In stark contrast with many, she expressed her ideas freely, even some that were more militant, advocating for the fredom of Black people through songs like Mississippi Goddam.

Her career was explosive and robust; the artist inspired a number of other artists, and it is regrettable that the extract of a song by Kanye West is the only one noted in the offspring of Nina Simone.

The story is also one of an activist. Growing up in North Carolina, she uses words to fight for civil rights.  As a Black woman, she also sees her political commitment as evidence, asking the rhetorical question "How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?" Closer to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. than The Black Panthers, she lived in the key period for this cause, The 1960’s.

Her personality is also addressed. Temperamental and unpredictable, her character often revealing multipe sides. Fine and sophisticated, she could also be rough and tough. Her illness gnaws at her until the end of her life in the South of France.

If the film deserved to put more ahead of her music, it nevertheless provides a comprehensive portrait of this free-thinker. "No fear," she concludes at the end of the documentary. Don’t be afraid to express your ideas - it seems almost strange given today’s news.

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