By Nomali Cele
Music is not an insular experience. In both the making and consuming of it, the art of music builds new memories and references and recalls times long gone. With the controversial Nina Simone biopic, which stars Zoe Saldana, finally out, the whole genre of the music biopic is under the spotlight again. Nina is an example of how motion picture that is meant to pay homage and respect to an artist and their legacy can go very wrong when done callously.
We have put together a recommendation of five music biopics you should watch.
Bessie Smith is known for being one of the most prolific blues singers of her time. An artist many would go on to mould their sounds on, she pioneered a sound and fought for her place in a world that deemed her too much; especially, too black … Smith was talented, troubled, she loved men, she loved women. While her life was short, she has left a lasting legacy, and Queen Latifah does her story justice.
Watch it because black women rarely get their complex stories told.
Miles Ahead (2016)
Miles Ahead has been a long time coming. Hollywood Legend has it that the seed for actor/director Don Cheadle to star in the Miles Davis biopic came up in the audition room for the Muhammad Ali biopic. While the film is set in the late 1970s, as Davis emerges from a period of being away from music, there are a lot of flashbacks. Miles Ahead Is also Cheadle’s directorial debut.
Watch it to see a different (fictionalised) side to the jazz legend, that doesn’t quite dwell as much on his artistry as the biopic genre tends to.
What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)
One of the iconic scenes of What’s Love Got To Do With It depicts Tina Turner, played by Angela Bassett, in court during her divorce from her abusive husband and creative collaborator, Ike Turner. In the scene, Tina Turner relinquishes everything she has amassed. The judge says, “This means you are going to walk out of here with absolutely nothing.” To which Bassett, masterful as ever in her portrayal, retorts “Except my name. I’ll give up all that other stuff, but only if I get to keep my name. I’ve worked too hard for it, your Honour.”
Watch it to witness the transformation of Turner from a regional R & B act into a national (and, eventually, global) rock sensation.
When he was around the age of four, blues legend Ray Charles began to lose his sight. It’s said that by the time he turned seven, he was completely blind. In the critically acclaimed 2004 film starring Jamie Foxx, we follow Charles from childhood as he starts going blind, to adulthood where he builds his career and becomes a notorious womaniser.
Watch it for the music and Foxx’s Oscar-winning performance.
Jimi: All Is By My Side (2013)
Jimi: All Is By My Side is set during the period, 1966 – 1967 when rock icon Jimi Hendrix left New York for London, where he found new success. Andre Benjamin, popularly known as Andre 3000, stars as Hendrix, a role he embodies well.
The film is set a couple of years before Hendrix’s seminal appearance at Woodstock and his untimely death in 1970 at the age of 27. The producers were not able to secure music rights from Hendrix’s estate and had to write new music that came close to Hendrix’s 1967 debut, Are You Experienced, with his band.
Watch it for the drama and rollercoaster rock ‘n roll life.
Which local artist do you think deserves a biopic? Who would you cast to play them?