Considering the ways that the media and politicians have misconstrued and misrepresented her words, it is fitting that Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. finds British Tamil musician M.I.A. telling her story on her own terms. Compiling footage shot by the artist (real name Matangi/Maya Arulpragasam) herself and candid interviews; Stephen Loveridge’s documentary creates a captivating tableau of both her quick rise to stardom and challenges that arose when she decided to user her platform to highlight the atrocities occurring in Sri Lanka.
Proving to be a creative mind from an early age, she wanted to be a filmmaker before finding her way to music via hip hop, to truly appreciate M.I.A.’s career one needs to understand the heritage that fueled it. The daughter of the founder of the Tamil Resistant Movement, Arulpragasam’s quest to understand various cultures, especially in correlation to the plight of the Tamil community, was a key component of her artistic pursuits. One intriguing moment in the film comes when she travels back to Sri Lanka to document her family’s experience in a land where the government, army and police officers routinely abuse their power under the guise of anti-terrorism.
As if destined to be the voice for the voiceless, Loveridge skillfully shows how M.I.A.’s assent up the international pop culture ladder coincided with the escalation of what can only be described as the genocide of Tamils overseas. Though her Tamil background was present in her music, M.I.A. discovered the hard way that the media loves pop stars who “play the game”; ones that are seen but not truly heard. Her attempts to steer interviews in more serious directions where dismissed by outlets only looking to run glossy puff pieces.
In allowing Arulpragasam to tell her side of things free of filters, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. effectively exposes the systematic ways that others routinely tried to change the narrative from under her. Take for example when the film captures New York Times writer Lynn Hirschberg gushing over M.I.A.’s work pre-interview only to turn around an write a scathing piece that casted the artist as an out of touch opportunist. Defiant to the very end, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. is a captivating look at a prolific artist and human rights advocate who refuses to be put in a corner. Frankly we need more artists like M.I.A. opening our eyes to the steep human cost of our inaction.
Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. opens in theatres on Friday.