Matangi “Maya” Arulpragasam thought she would be a documentary filmmaker. Now, Steve Loveridge, one of her old friends from film school, has made “Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.,” a documentary about her, his pal, music superstar M.I.A.
Young Matangi immigrated with her family to England from Sri Lanka as a refugee from war in the mid-1980s. The daughter of a Tamil revolutionary, Maya rooted her Western identity in music and filmmaking, following Elastica on tour, before returning home to Sri Lanka to revisit her roots, which ultimately inspired her brand of spunky, DIY global hip-hop. She uses her unique perspective to deconstruct the form, and the form to interrogate her own identity.
Maya turned over hundreds of hours of personal footage for Loveridge to craft this intimate piece. There are video diaries and interviews with family members in Sri Lanka, and early demos and concert appearances alongside cozy scenes with ex-boyfriend Diplo. But there are also blockbuster behind-the-scenes moments: a fawning visit from former New York Times writer Lynn Hirschberg before a scathing profile; an intimidating visit from NFL officials after M.I.A. flipped a middle finger at the camera during Madonna’s Super Bowl half-time show.
The film is revealing, but it ultimately situates M.I.A. as an individual processing the full weight of huge global forces — war, immigration, racism, capitalism, sexism — through her work and through her existence. It inspires deep respect for the fierce and independent artist she is, a person whose voice is necessary, now more than ever.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes