Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché

The death of punk icon and X-Ray Spex front-woman Poly Styrene sends her daughter on a journey across the world and through her mother’s archives to reconcile their fraught relationship.

Year: 2021

Directors: Celeste Bell, Paul Sng

Writers: Celeste Bell, Zoe Howe, Paul Sng

Producers: Rebecca Mark-Lawson, Matthew Silverman, Daria Nitsche

Co-Producers: Celeste Bell, Paul Sng

Executive Producers: Natasha Dack Ojumu, Nikki Parrott, Richard Coram, Bruno Waser

Cast / Interviews: Ruth Negga, Thurston Moore, Kathleen Hanna, Vivienne Westwood, Neneh Cherry, Margaret Emmons, Paul Dean, Lora Logic, Adrian Bell


Poly Styrene was the first woman of colour in the UK to front a successful rock band. She introduced the world to a new sound of rebellion, using her unconventional voice to sing about identity, consumerism, postmodernism, and everything she saw unfolding in late 1970s Britain, with a rare prescience. As the frontwoman of X-Ray Spex, the Anglo-Somali punk musician was also a key inspiration for the riot grrrl and Afropunk movements.

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 and her mother’s demons. Misogyny, racism, and mental illness plagued Poly’s life, while their lasting trauma scarred Celeste’s childhood and the pair’s relationship.

Featuring unseen archive material and rare diary entries narrated by Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga, 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.


Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché will receive its World Premiere at Glasgow Film Festival 2021, and North American Premiere at SXSW.