A Nina Simone biopic has been slowly crawling toward a start date for some time. Now it seems to be more firmly in the ‘go’ column, with long-attached Mary J. Blige set to star. But rather than presenting a comprehensive take on the singer’s life, the film “will focus on Simone’s relationship with her assistant Clifton Henderson, who will be played by David Oyelowo.” That might be reason for disappointment, or it might be a way to keep the film from falling into the trap of covering a great span of time in relatively little detail.
Variety explains that Cynthia Mort, who wrote Neil Jordan’s rather terrible The Brave One, will write and direct Nina, which for years has been a passion project for Blige. (The film was announced in 2005.) The singer probably has the pipes to impersonate Nina Simone, though I’m not sure if she can act the part. She’s committed to the idea, which is great, but being passionate about a project isn’t always enough.
Still, Simone is one of the more wonderful musical icons our country has produced, and I’d love to see more people discover her music. If this film can do that, I guess I’ll take it.
With respect to focusing on her relationship with her assistant, there are still a lot of possibilities. Simone (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon) had an amazing life that is far more than I can sum up here. She was a pianist, developed a singing career almost by accident, and established herself as a strong-willed cultural voice, civil rights activist, and female icon. If the film covers one period of her life there will still be ample opportunity to look back at other events.
By all means, check out some of Simone’s great body of music before this movie hits screens. If you need a starting place, any of the albums on Colpix and Philips are great. Lately I’ve been partial to ‘I Put a Spell on You’ and ‘Pastel Blues,’ both from 1965. The latter features ‘Sinnerman,’ which may be the Simone track that is most familiar to a broad audience now, thanks to the fact that it has been often sampled and incorporated into many remixes. It is also the end credits tune for David Lynch’s Inland Empire.)