Written by: Bianca Garner, CC2K Staff Writer
Just who is M.I.A? In this world full of click bait headlines and “fake news,” it is hard to know just who someone is and even trickier to find out exactly what they stand for. Matangi/Maya/MIA, is a documentary which tries to unpack the mystery behind the controversial headlines and allow the artist a chance to tell her story.
Director, Steven Loveridge’s first feature documentary is a very strong debut. Loverige does his best to deconstruct who M.I.A is and what led her to become a household name, although one has to wonder whether he bites off more than he can chew. It is also worth noting this is less of the standard musical documentary and rather one about exploring cultural identity and an individual’s journey to discover their heritage. This is a deeply personal story told by the subject’s own video diaries, giving the viewer a unique insight which a straight forward biographical documentary would have failed to do.
Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam is better known by her stage name M.I.A., an English rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, and activist of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. Her stage name M.I.A. is wordplay and a reference to the abbreviation “Missing in Action.” Viewers may know her for her song Paper Planes, which featured in 2009’s Slumdog Millionaire. Record sales of Paper Planes (which M.I.A describes as a ”satire on immigrant stereotypes”) was on the platinum scale in the US and Canada and the song was the 29th most downloaded in the digital era, earning a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year. Even if you are not a fan of her music, there’s no denying its appeal to many who see M.I.A. as someone who stands up for what she believes in regardless of the consequences.
Matangi/Maya/MIA, is very much the M.I..A story told from her own viewpoint. There aren’t any talking heads weighing in with their opinion, which is a shame as it would have been interesting to have other’s give their thoughts on M.I.A’s music and activism. There are many people who rush to undermine and discredit her, so it is understandable why the director takes this approach. The documentary may be slightly biased, but seems deeply authentic and truthful. It’s hard not to be caught up in the whirlwind that is M.I.A., and for 97 minutes the viewer is sucked into this loud, colorful world. Sadly the film doesn’t leave on much of a conclusion, but don’t think for a moment that M.I.A disappears from the lime-light for good.
There are moments which may be a struggle to watch, but are essential for understanding what Maya stands for and her passion to spread the word about the brutal treatment of the Sri Lankan people. It’s hard not to be moved by the sight of injured civilians, and there are moments which evoke strong emotional reactions. Loveridge shows footage from interviews where Maya tries to discuss the ongoing situation in her home country, only to be edited out. Her frustration and anger are clearly seen, and one feels the need to grab these interviewers and shake some sense into them. Her dedication and passion to what she believes in is something to be admired and it’s clear Loveridge is more interested in this aspect of her personality rather than her musical talents.
There are some controversies which are rushed over and barely touched upon. There isn’t much time devoted to the incident at the Super Bowl where M.I.A. stuck her middle finger up at the camera and caused a moral outrage. However, we do see footage afterwards where she expresses her disbelief about how people are so easily offended over a simple gesture. One wonders whether Loveridge should have pushed her for an explanation as to why she pulled the stunt, but he skips past it.
Still, with someone like M.I.A. at the center of your focus, how can you manage to cover everything to do with this larger than life character? Stephen Loveridge creates an intimate portrait of the musician which helps dismantle the myth behind the headlines and reveal the truth behind her unrelenting energy. This is a very well-crafted creative documentary, and for once this is M.I.A.’s chance to tell the story in her own words.