I am scratched, punched, kicked and bruised watching Mele Broomes in her extraordinary film Wrapped Up In This. I am compelled by the multitudes within the stories, I feel consumed by its power. I’m disgusted by the real life accounts of racism endured by the womxn Broomes interviewed whilst researching this piece, whose voices are heard as it develops. Yet, it is not without hope, it grows and amplifies. It is utterly visceral and political. It feels radical, revolutionary in its intent. It is discourse, dance, and demonstration all wrapped up at once.
But where to start? All stories must start somewhere. It begins simply enough, Broomes emerging from an ethereal blue mist-like dry ice, her gorgeous soulful vocals filling the air. Swaying, her raised arms and hands scoop delicate shapes in the air like vapour. Her voice is soothing, a kind of healing balm, almost a spiritual. Robbie Thomson’s strobing lighting effects surround, then envelop her, bit by bit, until she is first little more than a silhouette, then distorted, before disappearing completely. It is merely the calm before the storm.
Just like another chapter, she re-emerges, with mocking voice, and eyes blazing. “Work . . . Working . . . that privilege, to be slow . . . Deconstructing identity . . . for you, I like to serve you.” She’s both weary and raging; tired of the fights, stares, words, gaslighting, endless justifications against black feminine bodies. She’s picking up speed, pacing the room, spitting out bullets in this lucid, hard, lyrical invective. She’s picking apart cultural tourists, coasting on “colonial goals,” spotlighting, with her face in close-up profile and glowing in red light, stories she has heard, lived and seen which embody the ugly facets of misogynoir.
In her shimmering outfit—created by Sabrina Henry—which catches the light and draws the viewer in, she struts, undulates, winds, flexes, shimmies on the spot. The sharp tailoring and big padded shoulders of Henry’s outfit reminds me of futuristic funk goddess Nona Hendryx in her Labelle days. Although small in stature, Broomes seems to visibly increase in size, thanks to close-up camera work, lighting and her bold gestures.
I’m also often reminded of Grace Jones’ account in the documentary Bloodlight And Bami, of how it was she came to create for herself a suit of armour, of sorts, wearing a larger than life voice and stance, emboldening herself on stage with a persona based on her terrifying, aggressive preacher step-grandfather Mas P., becoming something other than the shy girl who was told not to laugh too loud, not to take up space, not to dance or “go off with boys,” particularly when living in Jamaica: this, of course, resulted in the freedom of living in Europe.
As the music and beats intensify (the beautiful soundtrack from Nwanneka Osammor, Sarra Wild and Shaheeda Sinckler is in itself immense) womxn’s voices are aired, appear floating as text testimonials on the screen, and overlap, speaking to oppression, “power brokering,” trying to become smaller, fit in, become less than—the many encounters of othering and racist abuse while working in factories, as domestic cleaners and in nursing; carelessness as they tried to care, and help people heal. And then the script is flipped, and the womxn speak of trying to thrive, of regaining a foothold in society, of “longevity” and of uprising. Now the piece is euphoric, Broomes’ body settled on the floor, prone, is rolling gently, rising, becoming a figure of elegance, resilience, strength.
The final scene sees Broomes directly staring back into the camera, before a stunning finale, emerging from gauze and in bursts of technicolour, from neon blue to psychedelic pink and Broomes in duplicate, as Everywomxn. She is looser now, rocking a wild style, a more club-inspired dance. “We survived it,” says a lone voice from the interviews.
Once again, she is reborn, She is integrated with her ancestors, her peers and ready to face all of her future encounters—past, present, and future perfectly aligned.
Part of Edinburgh Festival 2021, Summerhall Online, Wrapped Up In This is available until Sunday August 29, 2021.