The first shot of What Happened, Miss Simone? shows a crowd applauding the appearance of a singer. After years of a self-imposed hiatus, Nina Simone walks onstage, and with one hand on a piano, bows. For a full 10 seconds. She then looks up and out at the rapturous audience. But she is not smiling. Her stare is intense. Some will see fear in her eyes. Others will see indifference. Others might even see loathing. Or all of it.
Once Simone sits at the piano and the applause ends, she does nothing for half a minute. The uncomfortable silence is finally broken by her softy saying “Hello” into the mic, only to be greeted by a fan shouting, “Hi. We are ready!” But is Simone? After seeing Liz Garbus’ documentary, an even better question is, “Was she ever?”