MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. is a fascinating portrait of a controversial star
Few musicians have lives that justify the documentary treatment; even less have experienced enough to work with while they’re still living.
But the story of Mathangi Arulpragasam – the rapper and activist known better as M.I.A. – is one that’s more fascinating than even the artist herself knows. It’s no surprise that her close friend, filmmaker Steve Loveridge, decided to make a film about it.
Formed of hundreds of hours of archive footage, much of it shot by Maya herself, MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. follows the Tamil star from her tumultuous childhood as a Sri Lankan refugee raised in the midst of a civil war through to her ascent to experimental pop stardom. But instead of shifting its focus towards M.I.A.’s creative process – a trait so sporadic and singular that it deserves its own spin-off doc – Loveridge’s film humanises an artist often painted as an abrasive or controversy-stirring character. But that’s not even necessarily a reflection of Loveridge as a director. Instead, this film feels subconsciously influenced by Maya’s personal lens, something that Loveridge, the one who sifted through her tapes, has merely shaped into a cohesive film.
With its constantly-flitting structure, the film might struggle to capture every aspect of M.I.A.’s creative process, but it provides brilliant, emotional context to the work she’s made from her early student films to her latest LPs. Without ever seeming like a showy political siren, it elaborates on how her heritage imbues her creative output not out of choice, but necessity.
That said, there’s something about this that feels like the perfect representation of an artist who’s successfully skirted the mainstream. MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. has more in common with something made by Laura Poitras, something essential, than a throwaway fluff music doc – and it’s far stronger and more affecting for it.