NINA (2016)


Written & Directed By: Cynthia Mort
Cinematography By: Mihai Malaimere Jr.
Editor: Josh Rifkin, Mark Helfrich & Susan Littenberg 

Cast: Zoe Saldana,David Oyelowo, Keith David, Ella Joyce, Mike Epps, Ronald Guttman, Ella Thomas, Michael Vartan, Matthew Hoffman 


The story of the late jazz musician and classical pianist Nina Simone including her rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson.

The film seems to lack all of what made Nina Simone and her music so great. A distinct original voice, Passion, Soul, Attitude, Power and messages that truly seemed to be her emotions This film is absent of all of that. It makes a lively life story, Dull

This film is certainly bad, but it seems like a film that was bad at the root. Believing it could tell such a big life story or even a portion of it believably. First it get’s it wrong by including a more fictional story of Nina Simone and her manager making it a bigger story and relationship then it might have actually been.

Then presenting various times of her life through flashbacks some of which do my really make any sense for the narrative. They seem to be included for whatever reason be it drama, spectacle or to show her irrational behavior which we already know.

There is even one scene where she calls Richard Pryor for no reason played respectfully by Mike Epps. Though there is not rhyme or reason then we are thrust into a flashback with the two of them that adds no dramatic weight. It just feels like a FORREST GUMP moment to add down trivia to the film and alert the audience that hey they knew one another. As well as to give the film another big name among the cast even if more for just a cameo.

It doesn’t help that the film jumps around in time so that unless really paying attention we don’t know what years we are in.

As with the obvious black face make-up Zoe Saldana is wearing it seems they barely change it for whatever age we are dealing with Nina Simone at. We are more meant to tell it seems by her hairstyle or bad wigs.

The one thing I will give the movie is that Zoe Saldana really tries in the role. It’s just a or brow punch of her being badly miscast and the material she is given leaves her more to play half the scenes almost as caricature and cliche. As the make-up and the false teeth they give her are distracting and make anything else in the film hard to focus on. As taken out of context it feels comical.

It also doesn’t help that in half the concert scenes while Zoe Saldana has a nice singing voice. It lacks the power and emotion of Simone’s original recordings so it takes away the power from scenes that are meant to show strength particularly through her voice and spirit. So these scenes feel flat and in some of these legendary concerts it seems they lack extras so that it always seems like a paltry turnout.

According to daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, Nina had often hoped that one day Whoppi Goldberg would portray her on film. Mary J. Blidge was cast at one point but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.

Though I will say it is laughable whenever she curses as it doesn’t sound natural and has too much glee in it.

In the end the film feels more like a kid’s book report on a biography. That chooses to skip around and give a general overview and give just enough of their own narrative to put it together, but there is no passion or seemingly any real care for the subject in the middle of the story. It seems they are a means to an end for the filmmaker to want to tell this story of the more emotional intimate details of a star. Hoping to the first to tell the story.

It really feels like one of those situations where the filmmakers were running out of time with any certain rights and had to make something before they lost them or the first of rival projects, wanting to be the first one and speeding through the process. As it seems the films skips around a bunch.

Not only is it distracting because she is always on display. This is the story of Nina Simone. So it’s not like she can hide. She is the showcase. David Oyelowo comes off lightly as he has a more supporting role. That is essential but more subdued. Though at first his character is so passive. There isn’t much to play. As it is never shown or told exactly why he decides to become her assistant really. Not even any implication of making more money. That would have even been an acceptable reason. It just doesn’t seem to be that challenging a role.

Considering the film was actually filmed three years ago and finally released now. Should give a hint of the quality of the film, but also a lot has changed for David Oyelowo’s career. Which was made more when he was struggling. So I can more see why he would take the role. Where as if this was filmed now. I could see no reason. As it seems more a role for an unknown. To try and make a mark. Think Eddie Redmayne in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN. Though even that role seemed more prestigious to a degree.

The film feels dull as the film goes along there seems to be no purpose and you ask yourself where is the film headed to what is the point the film is trying to make or what exactly isn’t saying or trying to highlight. As other then the obvious it never answers these questions and just seems to go along.

At 90 minutes it still feels too long. As there is little interest In what is going on, on the screen.

Simone Kelly, Nina Simone ‘s daughter, disavowed the project ever since it was announced, for depicting a personal and amorous relationship between Simone and her manager Clifton Henderson which never existed, also because Henderson was gay in real life. As a result, Simone’s family was not consulted during the film’s production.

In May 2014, director Cynthia Mort sued production company Ealing Studios Enterprises Limited for breach of her director deal. Mort, who got approval rights over the final shooting script, the cast and crew, the line producer, the designer and all department heads and was given consulting rights on advertising, distribution, shooting schedule and budget, was removed by the production company during the editing process in June 2013 and wasn’t consulted about subsequent cuts and changes. Mort’s previous cuts were abandoned. Mort claims that therefore the final film version doesn’t reflect her vision of Simone as a woman, musician and civil rights activist.

Grade: F

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