#HotDocs22 ‘Nothing Compares’ Review: A Poignant Tribute to a Visionary Artist

Nothing Compares, which had it’s Canadian premiere at this year’s HotDocs Film Festival, offers an intimate look at Shuhada Sadaqat, formerly known as Sinead O’Connor. This movie is a tribute to her life and work, and the impact she has had on music in the course of her career. The documentary never shies away from showing the humanity behind the fame.

Sadaqat’s life has been an extraordinary one. This movie makes an excellent follow-up to her autobiography, ‘Rememberings’. Both her autobiography and this documentary give Sadaqat an opportunity to tell her story in her own words. It’s an unvarnished look at an artist who often became a caricature during the height of her career. As with so many who reach that height of fame, the version painted in the media rarely matches reality. 

With all of the talk in our current moment about the supposed dangers of ‘cancel culture’, it’s a timely reminder that Sadaqat actually had her career and reputation ruined, all for protesting the abuse of minors by the Catholic Church. Her protest on SNL wasn’t violent. It wasn’t even directed at a specific person. Ripping a photo of the Pope at the time was a powerful message to an institution responsible for the destruction of so many lives.

Sadaqat was ultimately proved right, with time. The public vitriol she was exposed to is alarming, to say the least. In hindsight, the reaction was clearly outsized to the protest itself. Even before the horrific discoveries of human remains of Indigenous children that have been discovered in recent years after much Indigenous advocacy, Sadaqat was one person who had the courage to use her platform to speak the truth about this issue.

Sadaqat’s general treatment by members of the press is particularly jarring, outside of the SNL protest. The entitlement of men in particular to ask about her shaved head and her general appearance is validating in the worst possible way. So many women and non-binary people have had the experience of having their looks commented on without consent. Seeing it shown brazenly on TV shows is alarming. 

Nothing Compares is also a journey through Sadaqat’s incredible musical journey. The entire documentary is a love letter to Sadaqat’s discography that it frankly deserves. Viewers get an inside look at Sadaqat’s musical process, including her influences. Her collaboration with Rasta artists is particularly endearing. It’s clear how much this community impacted her work through her career.

Sadaqat has been a divisive artist throughout her career. As imperfectly a human as she is, there’s such a depth to her that’s enthralling to watch. Hopefully, she feels that this movie did her story justice. From this writer’s point of view, she’s all the more relatable after being spotlighted here. It’s equally painful and joyful to hear the story of an artist who overcame so much, and turned her pain into music that continues to resonate. 

Nothing Compares has its Canadian Premiere at the HotDocs Film Festival May 4, 2022. 

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