Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche W/ Q & A

Monday 5 Apr 2021 - 8:00pm

Following the film, Directors Celeste Bell and Paul Sng will be in conversation with Love Music Hate Racism activist and musician Yemi Bolatiwa

This documentary, featuring unseen archive material and rare diary entries narrated by Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga, explores the life of the musician Poly Styrene, the first woman of colour in the UK to front a successful rock band, X-Ray Spex.

Introducing the world to a new sound of rebellion, Poly Styrene used her unconventional voice to sing about identity, consumerism, postmodernism, and everything she saw unfolding in late 1970s Britain, with a rare prescience. 

But the late punk maverick didn’t just leave behind an immense cultural footprint. She was survived by a daughter, Celeste Bell, who became the unwitting guardian of her mother’s legacy. Misogyny, racism, and mental illness plagued Poly’s life, while their lasting trauma scarred Celeste’s childhood and the pair’s relationship.

The documentary is brave in its exploration of mental illness, looking at the damage done by misdiagnosis and acknowledging Poly's manic depression as an aspect of her character. It looks at the spiritual community where she found this support and challenges the 'one size fits all' approach that pushes mentally ill artists towards social conformity. Celeste Bell's own reflections on growing up in a Hare Krishna community add depth to this. The latter part of the film, which deals with the relationship  both personal and creative - which mother and daughter built as adults, adds real warmth to what could so easily have been seen as a tragic story.

This documentary follows Celeste as she examines her mother’s unopened artistic archive and traverses three continents to better understand Poly the icon and Poly the mother.

'… as compelling, mysterious, moving and inspiring as Poly’s own pop art.- Stephen Troussé, UNCUT

'I really can’t praise this highly enough… A big thumbs up.' - Mark Kermode, BBC Radio 5 Live 

'Bringing an intimacy and tenderness to the rock documentary format.' - Wendy Ide, Screen Daily

'With a focus throughout on Poly's achievements as a writer, the film makes room for her to speak for herself as much as possible: to be heard, not just seen… Few female artists receive this kind of treatment. It's a refreshing and continually engaging piece of work.' - Jennie Kermode, Eye For Film

Paul Sng, Celeste Bell
Poly Styrene, Kathleen Hanna, Don Letts, Thurston Moore, Neneh Cherry, Vivienne Westwood, Celeste Bell
1hr 29mins