Given all of the controversy surrounding Nina, I absolutely had to check it out for myself. I don't believe the mainstream unless it fits. This time around, it doesn't quite fit but it is a little tight around the seams.
Yes, there were a lot of things that weren't up to historical record. Yes, the blackface that Zoe Saldana wears is not at all politically correct, and most people cite this as the main reason to dislike the film. Yes, the pacing is off. Yes, they de-gayed an entire character. Yes, there are many problems with the film. Yes, I know that Nina Simone's own family disavowed the project since it's inception.
But, if you just push past all of that, you'll find a film about a musician with a lot of demons. And that in it's own is almost not that bad. I will adamantly admit that I am disappointed that films like Ray and Get On Up get so much hype whereas a film about a female singer gets, basically, shit on by everyone and anyone.
This film isn't about what made Nina Nina. This film is about the last eight years of Nina Simone's life, and that upsets a lot of people. You don't want to think of Marilyn Monroe or Judy Garland as drunks, even though you know that's what was actually going on behind the scenes. It's the same with Nina Simone. Yes, she was sick and was in and out of hospitals, but did that need to be the basis for the film? Maybe not.
Anyway, about the film itself:
Nina starts off in 1946 North Carolina, in a school auditorium where a young Nina Simone (her real name is Eunice Kathleen Waymon and I didn't hear that used once in the film) refuses to play the piano during a town concert because her parents are required to stand in the back of the auditorium due to bullshit Jim Crow laws. We quickly skip forward in time to 1965 at The Village Gate, where Zoe Saldana dubs the Nina Simone classic, Feeling Good. Saldana's voice is nice, don't get me wrong, but we really need to get away from having the actors record the songs of the artist the movie is about. Jamie Foxx pulled it off in Ray, but it still wasn't Ray Charles singing throughout the song, and that bummed me out just as much as this.
We're moving so quickly through the time that should be discussed in the film, her becoming the musician she was and I think this is what bothers me most about Nina. Why did all of that need to be skipped over? I would have preferred to see her at Juilliard before she made it big. I would have preferred to see her meeting with record executives.
Then, we speed forward in time to 1995 during a contract dispute for royalties, where Nina Simone apparently pulled a gun on a record executive. So there's that.
I just want to point out that we went from 1946-1995 in less than 6 minutes. Because, apparently, nothing important happened to Nina in those 50 years? REALLY? There seems to be no consistency in the story line, and it's really frustrating to watch.
Also, I get that there's supposed to be some semblance of movie magic going on, but Zoe Saldana doesn't pass for a 70 year old woman. Nope. Nuh uh. No. Nah.
Listen, Nina Simone was one of the best (if not the best) female jazz musicians of our time (and recorded history). She was a huge supportive figure during the 60's Civil Rights movement. She is one of the most influential artists ever. Her legacy deserved better than this film.
I had hope that this movie would have impressed me, I really wanted to like it in the midst of all the controversy. But I just can't, I have to join the masses. This movie just falls flat. I wish I could rate it higher than I have but, the facts are clear: It's a flop.