She’s intelligent, outspoken and attractive. She also happens to be a songstress with a large and loyal following; and an immigrant with a fascinating history. Against the odds, she’s made it to the top, but still she never fails to court controversy. Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. paints a picture of the artist known as M.I.A.; who shook the establishment when – as a backing singer for Madonna – she flipped the bird at the Super Bowl.
Drawn from a cache of personal recordings from the past 22 years, director Steve Loveridge’s Sundance award-winning documentary is a personal profile of a critically acclaimed artist. M.I.A. began life as Matangi Arulpragasm. As a daughter of the founder of Sri Lanka’s armed Tamil resistance, she was hidden from the government in the face of a vicious civil war. When her family fled to the UK, she became Maya, a precocious and creative teenager in London. Finally, the world met her as M.I.A. when she emerged on the global stage.
Identity is of critical importance to her craft. Hers is a blend of Tamil politics, art school punk, hip-hop beats and the unwavering, ultra-confident voice of burgeoning multicultural youth. Never one to compromise on her vision, Maya has kept her own camera rolling throughout her life.
I knew nothing of her or her background when I entered the cinema, but I know a hell of a lot more now. Her activism has been labelled as terrorism. Her upbringing was anything but conventional. She has travelled widely and puts her heart and soul into her music videos, leaving nothing out there.
Originally, she wanted to become a documentary filmmaker and I can only imagine that must have been an advantage in the finished product. In this case though, the man responsible was an art-school friend of Maya’s. He has had the major benefit of access to a whole lot of fascinating archival footage featuring M.I.A. and her family, and he has taken full advantage of that.
As I referenced, it appears that she had all but documented her entire life and that is a distinct advantage.
Director: Steve Loveridge
Release Date: 10 January 2019 (limited)
Rating: MA 15+
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.