Lauryn Hill took over Harlem’s Apollo Theater on Monday night following the New York premiere of Netflix documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” about the legendary singer and pianist. Hill embodied the captivating artist in sound and appearance, making her performance feel like a way-too-late-audition for “Nina,” the upcoming biopic starring Zoe Saldana.
The docu, directed by Liz Garbus, marks Netflix’s first commissioned original documentary. But the Oscar-nominated, vet nonfiction helmer wasn’t nervous about working with the “new heavyweight on the doc block.”
“With Netflix it was really a kind of a ‘You had me at hello’ situation, where they were immediately and extremely aggressive about their desire to work with us (RadicalMedia) on this project,” Garbus said. “It was a really happy marriage from the get-go.”
Lisa Nishimura, VP of Original Documentaries for Netflix, explained that while the company has built up its documentary portfolio over the past few years by acquiring “Virunga,” “The Square,” “E-Team” and “Mission Blue,” more original nonfiction programming is on the way.
“We’re doing a lot more greenlighting and actual production,” Nishimura said. “In addition to documentary features we will be doing more docu series, but we will never abandon the acquisition market because it’s incredibly fertile ground.”
Netflix will qualify “Simone” for Oscar consideration beginning June 24. Two days later, the film will premiere in all Netflix territories.
Nishimura said it was no brainer to make the jazz virtuoso/fiery protest singer the subject of company’s inaugural commissioned docu.
“People are always asking how (Netflix) selects projects,” she said. “I think at the end of the day it really comes down to the most compelling stories told by the most engaging and talented filmmakers.”
But squeezing the story of Simone’s riveting life and career into a 100-minute running time proved difficult for Garbus.
“(I had to) exist in the contradictions of her life,” helmer said. “She was a person always living with oppositional forces. So it’s ultimately how you weave those conflicting strands together without robbing them of their honesty while also simultaneously telling a story.”
Following Hill’s performance, Garbus along with docu royalty — D. A. Pennebaker, Barbara Kopple and Joe Berlinger — celebrated at a private after-party in Harlem’s Cecil Restaurant.
An album, “Nina Revisited … A Tribute to Nina Simone,” featuring Hill, Usher, Common, Mary J. Blige among others will be released on June 30.
(Pictured: Netflix’s Adam Del Deo and Lisa Nishimura flank director Liz Garbus at the premiere of “What Happened, Miss Simone?”)