A collaboration between old friends from art school, Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. is not your average music doc. Most obviously because the music career of Sri Lankan born and Brixton bred rapper M.I.A. is only one component in a film exploring her beginnings, her inspirations, her activism and her global success in the early 2000s to the present. Both its subject and director take us on a rather haphazard journey through the life, career and controversy of M.I.A. A chaotic collage of footage old and new, we’re given intimate access to the London hip-hop sensation to whom controversy seems to always surround. Blunt and self-assured, Maya provides us with a first-hand account of the paths she’s taken throughout her life, resulting in major success and scrutiny; particularly within America. This is a deeply personal and honest account of a career, and a life, shaped by the immigrant journey; undertaken from Sri Lanka to London at the age of just nine. Much like the star herself, the documentary rarely thinks before it speaks – never holding back or pausing for thought – something I admire about the film (and its subject) but which remains a technical flaw. What’s captured well by Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. is the blatant prejudice experienced by immigrants in today’s Western world, regardless of celebrity status. As the only Sri Lankan Tamil with such a prominent platform within the media and music industry, M.I.A.’s repeated criticisms of the Sri Lankan government’s treatment of its people has lead to many American outlets entitling her a terrorist. Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. is an angry, assertive piece of film-making, rough around the edges but at its centre a captivating individual.
It’s easy to forgive the film its erratic nature when it’s such an authentic piece of cinema; true to its subject and with a raging, pumping heartbeat. A much needed addition to recent British musician docs such as Asif Kapadia’s Amy is this, a more ecological and existential look at a musician having to constantly justify her position and place within not only the music industry but the world itself. It’s simultaneously a disorientating tale of creativity and censorship and a deeper more important exploration into the invisible obstacles that spread across the path of the immigrant journey. For my generation, the early 2000s is quickly becoming an age of nostalgia, with MySpace and Napster piracy framing an era of influential DIY British music (The Arctic Monkeys, Kate Nash and Calvin Harris all withstanding products of the site and period). Myself, having seen M.I.A. perform in 2007, was captivated when the documentary got to this time frame within its story – finally giving me context to a performer I’d not understood at the time and therefore disregarded for a decade. Without being boastful, Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. reveals the extraordinary levels of success achieved by a young girl from Brixton whose father once lead a Sri Lankan civil army. As her profile grows, she becomes more and more silenced (edited out on talk shows and slandered by the press). It’s astonishing to witness just how blatantly uncomfortable so many media outlets became, and remain, with a non-white, working class, unapologetic woman achieving these thoroughly earned levels of success. Bringing these truths to light is where director Steve Loveridge really triumphs. Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. was clearly a life-time in the making. It’s not brilliantly executed but is sincere, authentic and, most vitally, telling a very important story – one bigger than the artist herself.
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