Maria Paradinas celebrates a documentary about an icon of black female power.
Bloodlight and Bami, the new documentary about Grace Jones, premiered at the Southbank and was live-screened at the Watershed cinema last week.
The film encompasses Grace’s domestic and performative identity. Featuring visually powerful and musically striking footage from live shows, as well as nostalgic footage of her in Jamaica, the film is warm, charming and raw. The documentary is a fly-on-the-wall study of the life and interiority of an extraordinary woman who possesses a wildish originality and a vital creative energy that many artists can only strive for: her life is art. The radical way in which she expresses herself is both uncommon and essential – her effortless genius is obvious.
Footage shows Grace in her hometown in Jamaica playing Jacks with old neighbours, eating at the dinner table with her family, and watching her mother sing in church. She demonstrates self-knowledge, tracing the inception of her fierce and formidable character on stage back to her father and the traumatic relationship she had with him, which is explored with family and neighbours in the Jamaica footage. She says “none of them [psychoanalysts] could do anything for me, so I thought I’d do it myself, analyse myself”, demonstrating a passionate autonomy, and a patient and loving relationship with herself.
A woman of self-determination, Grace has fought back against structures that have tried to dilute or manipulate her art, enabling her wildish freedom of expression in a system that is very white and very male. Even in contemporary society black women artists are being tokenised and stereotyped, seemingly denied access to the complex range of traits and peculiarities that are so readily available to their white counterparts. Active in music since 1977, Grace’s avant-garde mode of expression was revolutionary, and paved the way for many women of colour in music who do not adhere to certain conventions dictating what a musician should be like, or create music about, such as FKA Twigs and Kelela.
In the documentary Grace comes across as intensely powerful, yet we are exposed to how some of this power lies in her vulnerability and openness. In one scene with photographer and ex-husband Jean-Paul Goode, she tells him “I’ve told you…you’re the only man who ever made me truly weak at the knees”. Baring herself emotionally throughout the film, and inviting us to share her private and domestic experiences is an admirable act of generosity and bravery. We see a side of Grace that is sweet, considerate and full of love.
Bloodlight and Bami offers a more well-rounded narrative than the usual documentary, unveiling Grace Jones as far more than a spectacle and a diva. She is captivating, alien, and indispensable.
Illustration by Maria Paradinas.