Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché

Director Celeste Bell,Paul Sng / 2021 / UK

A daughter explores her mother’s complex punk legacy in this no-holds-barred documentary.

In 1976, Marianne Elliott-Said gave herself a new name that satirised plastic pop clichés. But the pioneering leader of legendary band X-Ray Spex and songwriter of punk rallying cry Oh Bondage Up Yours! was a true original who inspired other women in music, including Neneh Cherry. Poly Styrene’s diary entries (read by actor Ruth Negga) reveal she was more than just an Anglo-Somali woman jostling for respect in the white, blokey UK punk scene; she was also a gentle soul who struggled with commercial pressures and mental health misdiagnoses.

This documentary – which impressed viewers and critics following its festival runs at SXSW, Hot Docs and CPH:DOX – was co-directed by Poly Styrene’s daughter Celeste Bell, who revisits her mother’s past to make sense of her own tumultuous upbringing. But, despite the musician’s towering reputation, this isn’t your typical profile or piece of hagiography; it’s a reckoning about racism and sexism in the music industry, as well as a reconciliation.

“Riveting … The X-Ray Spex singer is revealed as a mystic, rebellious working-class woman of colour in this valuable film.” – The Guardian

The Music on Film strand is presented by Triple R

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