Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is a forthcoming documentary chronicling the remarkable life of Anglo-Somali artist and punk maverick Poly Styrene, one of the first women of colour to lead a successful rock band, X-Ray Spex. The filmmakers, Paul Sng and Celeste Bell have launched a Patreon campaign to help them finish the film and bring it to international audiences. You can find out the crowdfunding details here.
In a male dominated scene, Poly Styrene gave a voice to the misfits, the uncool and the downtrodden when she exploded into the punk world . Rockshot Mag mentioned the film way back in March, in an article announcing the launch of a book about her life, Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story. You can read the article HERE
Poly’s daughter, singer and songwriter, Celeste Bell, who is also the co-director of the documentary said “I set out with a clear goal to share my mother’s story as widely as possible because her story needs to be heard. In making this film, I have uncovered aspects of my mother I hardly knew before and also discovered that she made a huge impact on culture that is still being felt today. The fact that her legacy has not been properly acknowledged is something we are seeking to redress with this film.”
Poly’s life was fraught with difficulties: poverty, racism, misogyny, and chronic mental health issues. After suffering a nervous breakdown at the height of her success, she left music to join the Hare Krishna movement. The film follows Poly’s daughter Celeste Bell as she examines her mother’s unopened artistic archive and uncovers the legacy of a woman whose lyrics were described by radical musician Billy Bragg as, “a slap in the face” to male artists and journalists.
The filmmakers have recorded more than 30 interviews with people including Neneh Cherry, Pauline Black, Kathleen Hanna, Lora Logic, Paul Dean, Vivienne Westwood, Thurston Moore, Glen Matlock and many others. In addition, Poly’s inner thoughts from her early years are brought to life in diary entries narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Ruth Negga.
Despite the brevity of her career, Poly’s influence has reverberated throughout music, fashion, and feminism, from the Riot Grrrls of the 1990s to FKA Twiggs and the global Afropunk movement of today.
Paul Sng, co-director, explains “Poly Styrene was one of the most original and dynamic voices in popular culture, yet her importance is known to a relatively small number of people. To raise the funding required to finish the film and share Poly’s legacy with the world, we’re offering patrons exclusive access to unseen content from the film, unique merchandise and invitations to special events.”
Paul has previously won widespread acclaim for his films Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle and Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain. As previously stated, the film is co-directed by Poly’s daughter Celeste Bell, whose book about her mother, Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story, co-authored by writer Zoë Howe, was published in March 2019. Also working on the film are producers Rebecca Mark Lawson (UK) and Matthew Silverman (US).
You can find out the crowdfunding details here. This is a story that deserves to be heard. I am one of the ‘relatively small number of people’, who remember her impact on the punk scene, and the importance of her tragically too short carrier. In fact Poly Styrene was not a cliche, she was a one off.