“She wanted to be a classical musician – the first black female classical pianist in this country – and she was denied that opportunity,” says film-maker Jeff Lieberman. “[But that] led to this brave, interesting, creative individual who had a story that needed to be told.”
Three new films attempt to tell Nina Simone’s story. A biopic is due out later this year, starring Zoë Saldana and David Oyelowo, while two documentaries have just been released. Lieberman’s The Amazing Nina Simone charts the legacy of the civil rights activist and ‘High Priestess of Soul’, and What Happened, Miss Simone? looks at how her politics fed into her music.
Its director, Liz Garbus, describes the importance of Simone’s civil rights anthem Mississippi Goddam to Tom Brook. “The song was revolutionary – not only was there a curse word in the title… but it was also completely unusual for a black female entertainer to address the powers-that-be in that way.”
Brook explores what makes Simone so relevant today. “Fifty years ago she was protesting through song the murder of four young black women in a church bombing, and just last week we had a similar incident happen here in our country,” says Lieberman. “So you have to wonder how things have really changed.”