Throughout the last half century, music has been the means for artists to express their deepest thoughts on issues important to them and communicate them to a global audience. And while she wasn’t the first superstar to voice her discontent with the world, Sinéad O’Connor has been one of the most polarising. The story of her life and career is told in Kathryn Ferguson’s documentary, Nothing Compares, in which the filmmaker uses O’Connor’s experiences to paint a poignant and moving portrait of the fiery feminist icon.
With her androgynous appearance and raw, expressive vocals, O’Connor has shaped her image as a rebellion against the abusive and repressive childhood she had growing up in an Ireland governed by strict religious belief. An older O’Connor talks off-camera about traumatic instances she suffered at the hands of her cruel mother and the nuns that were put in her care. This documentary is as much about the issues that she was speaking out against as it is her life. And by digging into the reason for the rage, viewers consequently gain a deeper appreciation of the artist’s work, alongside a more intimate understanding of why she was an inspirational figure.
As she shot to stardom with the track the film takes its title from, O’Connor’s platform only got bigger, as did her determination to speak out against injustice. This led to the infamous controversies of her not wanting the American national anthem to be played before she took the stage and, more notoriously, a live TV performance where she made a powerful anti-Pope statement. More shocking, however, were the reactions from the press and public: tabloid headlines mocked her, demanding she be quiet, whilst chat show hosts threatened her with violence for going “too far”.
Ferguson uses the reaction to the singer’s proclamations to explore broader forms of sexism in society. The documentary argues that by fighting back as strongly as she did, when she did, the singer was decades ahead of her time. Ending with a passionate montage of feminist demonstrations from around the world as O’Connor’s voice sings of gratitude, it’s difficult to see her music and career as anything less than groundbreaking.
Nothing Compares is released in select cinemas on 7th October 2022.
Watch the trailer for Nothing Compares here: