To Be Free a film by Adepero Oduye. 2017, USA, 13 min. Cinematography by Bradford Young. An actor and filmmaker’s elegant tribute to Nina Simone, playing the iconic singer in a performance of “My Way”.

This film screened exclusively for a week and is currently not available online.

A luminous portrait in miniature of legendary singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone, actor and filmmaker Adepero Oduye’s To Be Free is now presented in its online premiere. This seductively imagined short fiction film reconstructs a Simone concert and her ecstatic rendition of “My Way” (a song previously popularized by Frank Sinatra), and features actor-director Oduye’s spirited performance as the singer. Her film is a moving tribute to an artist whose work has empowered her intellectually, politically and creatively.


Oduye embarked upon the project after reading a Ta-Nehisi Coates article entitled “Nina Simone’s Face” and “instantly and completely” relating to his words. She enlisted her friend Bradford Young, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer behind Selma (2014), Arrival (2016) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), and “the only person” who could have photographed To Be Free. The film is shot in both black-and-white and color 35mm, evoking the past while rendering it alive, immersive and present-tense.



“It is an exploration of a moment of freedom on stage for Nina Simone, who once said: ‘I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: NO FEAR!’” ADEPERO ODUYE


Since her breakthrough role starring in Dee Rees’ Pariah (2011), Adepero Oduye has made notable appearances in the work of directors like Steve McQueen, Adam McKay and Terence Nance. Most recently, she was seen in Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix miniseries When They See Us, playing activist and artist Nomsa Brath. With To Be Free, her second short as a director, she emerges as a distinct and original voice. She is currently developing To Be Free into feature form.

Credits for
To Be Free
written by
Adepero Oduye
Adepero Oduye, Vicente Archer, Kwami Coleman, Eric McPherson & Shakoor Sanders
produced by
Esther De Rothschild & Becky Morrison
Kathy Atkinson
associate producer
Adepeju Oduye, Adriana Ambriz & Nicole Sic-Sic
Bradford Young
Adepero Oduye, Vicente Archer, Kwami Coleman, Eric McPherson & Shakoor Sanders
Conor McBride
production design
Gino Fortebuono