When we did a show on Nina Simone back in July, Joyce Jones interviewed Liz Garbus, who directed What Happened, Miss Simone?, then a new release on Netflix and enjoying a theatrical run. It was heavily influenced by Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, who was the film’s executive producer.
Joyce also interviewed Simone’s brother, Dr. Sam Waymon, in relation to another Simone film in the works. That film is the Jeff Lieberman-directed The Amazing Nina Simone and we’re happy to report via the Shadow and Act film blog that it has an initial week-long run until October 22 at AMC Empire in our hometown of NYC and in limited release elsewhere, with wider release planned across the US on the 23rd and in November.
The films appear to take different approaches to covering Simone, with the new film features over 50 interviews with former Simone bandmates, family members, and Simone scholars to trace her career, where the earlier production leaned on archival footage of Simone herself.
While we haven’t seen the new film yet, obviously there’s room for several approaches to tell the story of someone as complex and fascinating as Nina Simone. Both documentaries are good pre-emptive reality checks on the forthcoming Nina biopic, which has been criticized for the choice of Zoe Saldana to play Simone and the ensuing decision to darken her skin and add prostheses to make her more resemble the character, choices Simone Kelly told the Huffington Post were “a further example of how much this project really just veered away from what the truth was”.
While The Amazing Nina Simone might be held over if it does well, it’s best to get to the theater during the initial run, especially since further release of films often hinges on how well they do in their initial runs in larger markets. And if you haven’t seen What Happened, Miss Simone? yet, the good news is that you can still catch it on Netflix.
While we’re talking film, a reminder that director Carol Bash’s documentary film on pianist Mary Lou Williams, The Lady Who Swings the Band, screens at the ReelSisters film festival on October 25th at LIU’s downtown Brooklyn campus.

The Amazing Nina Simone – Documentary Feature Trailer from Re-Emerging Films on Vimeo.

Much beloved and often misunderstood, the story of Americaʼs most overlooked musical genius is finally brought to light in “The Amazing Nina Simone.” Director Jeff L. Lieberman (”Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria”) brings audiences on Nina’s journey from the segregated South, through the worlds of classical music, jazz joints & international concert halls. Navigating through the twists & turns of the 1960’s fight for racial equality, the film delves deep into Nina’s artistry and intentions, answering long-held questions behind Ninaʼs most beloved songs, bold style, controversial statements, and the reason she left America. Opens in Theatres October 16th.

Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.