Netflix Scores Oscar Nomination for Nina Simone Documentary

Netflix got good news when the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards were announced this morning in Beverly Hills. For the third year in a row, the streaming service was recognized in the Best Documentary Feature category, this time twice — for “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”

Last year, Netflix earned a nomination for the documentary “Virunga,” director Orlando von Einsiedel’s exploration of efforts to protect the world’s last mountain gorillas against the threats of war, poaching and oil exploration. It ultimately lost to the “Citizenfour,” about the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden. In 2014, it was nominated for director Jehane Noujaim’s doc “The Square,” about the Egyptian uprising. The film lost to “20 Feet From Stardom.”

This year’s (preliminary) Oscar victory is sweeter for Netflix because “What Happened, Miss Simone?” marks the first documentary commissioned by its in-house team headed by Lisa Nishimura, VP of original documentaries.

Directed by Liz Garbus (“Bobby Fischer Against the World,” “Love, Marilyn”), the film explores the life and legend Nina Simone, the supremely talented but deeply trouble singer, pianist and civil rights activist labeled the “High Priestess of Soul.”

Like preceding Netflix Original documentaries “The Square,” “E-Team” and “Mission Blue,” “Virunga” was an acquisition. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2014, where it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature, and went on to win Audience Favorite at the Hot Docs Film Festival and Best of Fest at AFI Docs before being picked up by Netflix in the July of that year. The streamer subsequently brought on Leonardo Di Caprio as an executive producer on the completed film, presumably in a bid to boost its awards season profile.

The morning was not without disappointment for Netflix. It failed to score any nominations in narrative categories, where its original feature “Beasts of No Nation,” an African civil war drama written and directed by Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective,” “Sin Nombre”), was seen as a contender.

In addition to “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire,” nominees in the Best Documentary Feature Oscar include “Amy,” “Cartel Land” and “The Look of Silence.”

The winners will be announced at “The 88th Academy Awards” on Sun., Feb. 28, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, which will be televised live by the ABC Television Network at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.

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