REVIEW: Matangi /Maya /M.I.A.

by Polyxeni Sotirchou

Eccentric, bold, constantly evolving and constantly revolting, multi-faceted and impulsive Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam is the subject-matter of this new documentary by her childhood friend Steve Loveridge. When it comes to iconoclast Maya, stage name M.I.A., we know everything and nothing. Born in the suburbs of London, she was marked for life by her Sri-Lankan origins and her immigrant status, constantly fighting against the hostile urban surroundings she found herself living in. A serial forger and inventor of her own identity, Maya started documenting her life from a very young age and dreamt of becoming a documentary filmmaker as a teen. But somewhere along the way, she was won over by the music industry and eventually ended up directing her own music videos. Steve Loveridge took over for her and ended up with 700 hours of unedited footage, delivered to him by Maya herself, with the intention of making the definitive M.I.A. portrait.

Seven years later, despite Maya’s doubts about ever completing the film, Steve put the finishing touches on his debut feature documentary, which screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to mixed reviews. We join Maya at some of her most intimate moments, when she decides to quit school in the UK because of all the racism and we follow her as she attempts to repatriate to Sri Lanka. The civil war raging there however does not leave a lot of space for personal freedom. Once back, she desperately tries to communicate the political situation in her country and is accused of being a two-faced hypocrite, as her lifestyle does not fit in with the image of a well-respected activist. Despite adversities, she never stops creating or drawing inspiration from what is happening around her until, in 2007, Rolling Stone magazine names “Kala” album of the year. The rest is music history.

The documentary explores different facets of Maya’s personality, contradictions et all, successfully managing to avoid hero worship. So where does M.I.A. stand in the larger scheme of the man-eating music industry? “Matangi /Maya /M.I.A.” is open to any and every interpretation. The conclusion is up to you…

 



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