Matangi/Maya/ M.I.A. leaves viewers with more questions than it answers
together genres and sounds from around the globe, and her fearlessness as a political commentator who would rather speak her mind than sell a few more records.
Screened at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival, Matangi/ Maya /M.I.A. is more about the person than her music. It opens with her responding to the accusation that she is a ‘problematic pop star’, to which she says she would have become “a drug addict” if she didn’t express herself. The complication with M.I.A., Loveridge suggests, is that she can’t help but express herself; she has no filter or internal ‘stop’ button.
We’re shown how her outspokenness on everything from the atrocities inflicted on Tamils during the civil war in Sri Lanka—her father was of one of the founders of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students—to the refugee crisis in West Asia.
The one thing that isn’t discussed is her romantic relationships with producer Diplo and billionaire Benjamin Bronfman, her former fiancé and father of her nine-year-old son. Loveridge doesn’t attempt to paint his subject as perfect, however. His film benefits greatly from the inclusion of M.I.A.’s own extensive stash of home movies and video diaries that she been maintaining since she joined college with the aspirations of becoming a documentary filmmaker. A child of the digital age, M.I.A. has always been adept at using social networks and technology to create and spread her music and message. She broke through with the help of Myspace, and has always been extremely active on Twitter.
We’re shown career milestones like her encore-elicting debut performance in Coachella in 2005, her second record Kala being named Rolling Stone’s album of the year in 2007, and her nominations for a Grammy and an Oscar in 2009. We also see the hate she receives from Sri Lankans, who brand her a terrorist, and right-wing Americans, who are appalled by her flipping the finger at the camera during her guest spot at Madonna’s Super Bowl performance in 2012. Loveridge alludes to the fact that M.I.A. is often dismissed as unreasonable because she’s not only a woman but also brown. But there’s no denying her talent and ability to bring together art, fashion and music in ways rarely seen before. She’s usually called a rebel, but Loveridge makes us wonder if despite her best efforts to be more than her image, M.I.A. inherently feels a need to live up to the persona she has built for herself. Take, for example, her answer to why she showed her middle finger to the audience at the US’s most watched annual television broadcast. Surely she knew there would be consequences. She laughs off the incident and implies it happened in the heat of the moment, saying that, after all, she just released a song called ‘Bad Girls’. A few days later, she claims it was a reaction to the misogynistic and racist nature of the stage act, for which she was dressed as a cheerleader and made to twirl around. Perhaps the pressures of being a pop star with an opinion are greater than those of being a pop star without a brain of their own.
Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. leaves viewers with more questions than it answers, but as a character portrait, it’s rich in detail and observation. And even though there isn’t much music, it will make you want to put on some M.I.A.