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Staff & contributors
“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will surprise you no matter how much you thought you knew about the soul singer - not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Dick Gregory, Elisabeth Henry-Macari, James Baldwin, Lisa Simone, Liz Garbus, Nina Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite

Director: Liz Garbus

Rating: Not Rated

Saying that the program I Love Lucy paved the way for television would be an understatement. Lucille Ball inspired a generation of female comedians, Desi Arnez blazed a trail for Latinos making it in America, and the show that they starred in broke records upon records, redefining what sitcoms could be at a time when no one took them seriously. 

Millions tuned into their love story as Lucy and Rick, but their real-life relationship as Lucy and Desi was just as compelling. It was complicated by jealousy, race, gender, and class, but it was also solidly grounded in true, enduring love. This documentary, directed by Amy Poehler, does well to tell us the couple’s truth without sensationalizing it. Instead of blowing things out of gossipy proportions, she zeroes in on the messy facts and weaves them into a nuanced, enlightening tale about marriage, celebrity, and fame. Thanks to Poehler, the story about Lucy and Desi is just as riveting as their legendary show. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Charo, Desi Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr., Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Lucie Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Norman Lear, Preston Foster, Vivian Vance

Director: Amy Poehler

Rating: PG

Judy Blume, the author behind enduring classics like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Superfudge, and Forever, gifts us with her comforting presence and precise insight in Judy Blume Forever, a delightful documentary about a delightful woman.

Here, Blume looks back and lets us in on the eventful private life that inspired her prolific work life. Each book has a behind-the-scenes story, which the documentary pairs with commentary from well-known fans like Molly Ringwald, Lena Dunham, and Samantha Bee. Additionally (and most memorably), the documentary also features the years-old correspondence Blume has kept with the children who wrote and confided in her. Whether or not you’ve read her work, watching this film is a heartwarming experience that will soon have you grabbing the nearest Blume classic.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anna Konkle, Caitlin Kinnunen, Cecily von Ziegesar, Judy Blume, Lawrence Blume, Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Samantha Bee, Tayari Jones

Director: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok

Rating: 16

, 2024

Frida Kahlo is an iconic Mexican painter, not just because of her outstanding art, but also because of her outlook in life, despite her ill health and tragic accident. Because of this, she has been talked about in multiple books, movies, and exhibitions, but a new documentary has popped up, this time from her own words. Carla Gutierrez’s directorial debut is a revelation, voiced primarily in Frida’s native Spanish and paired with key archival footage, vivid animations of her paintings, and an excellent acoustic score plucked from classical guitar. Being a biographical documentary, fans of the artist would, of course, be familiar with her life events, but Gutierrez’s approach is still worth watching, mostly because it’s Frida’s own words driving the film.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Frida Kahlo

Director: Carla Gutierrez

Rating: R

After directing George Harrison: Living in the Material World and No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese brings to the fore yet another singular musician, this time New York Dolls frontman David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter). More of a concert film than anything, this feature takes place during a live performance Johansen gives during his birthday; his raspy voice and poetic punk songs already tell a story in themselves, but Scorsese intercuts them with the occasional archival footage and interview, careful not to disrupt a glorious musical moment with cheesy throwback scenes. 

A Dolls or punk fan will be moved by the resulting film, a fittingly jagged but meaningful oeuvre of a tenacious artist. But if you're coming to this documentary without much prior knowledge about Johansen, his band, and the era from which he came, you might find it somewhat niche, but overall impressive, informative, and musically thrilling.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: David Johansen, Debbie Harry, Hal Willner, Morrissey, Sylvain Sylvain

Director: David Tedeschi, Martin Scorsese