M.I.A, Justine Frischmann, Madonna, Nicky Minaj
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If you’re not a fan of British-raised-of-Sri-Lankan heritage hip hop artist M.I.A’s music, don’t be swayed away from this finely crafted, utterly fascinating documentary. An earnest look at the immigrant experience in urban England; the horrors of rarely reported but savagely war-torn Sri Lanka; the cost of fame; and the cheap, dismissively off-handed way that female artists with something to say are treated in the media, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A deftly stays on top of its heaving surge of subject matter, distilling it all through the lens of its wonderfully charismatic, keenly intelligent, deeply impassioned, and charmingly insouciant leading lady.
The daughter of Arul Pragasam – a key figure in the Sri Lankan civil war, and a major player in the Tamil Tiger resistance movement – Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam was raised in poverty in Sri Lanka and India, and under constant threat from the Sri Lankan government. Resettled in London, Arulpragasam dabbled in filmmaking before zeroing in on music, a skill she honed after meeting Justine Frischmann, the frontwoman for 1990s indie rock band, Elastica (remember them?). Using cheap technology and her own razor sharp wit, the rechristened M.I.A released her debut album, Arular, to great acclaim in 2005, and was hailed as a truly original voice in contemporary hip hop.
Personal and intimate, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A ingeniously utilises the reams of footage that M.I.A shot while she was a film student, much of which was created during a consciousness-raising trip to her home country, which sparked a sense of politicisation which would define most of her subsequent work. Speaking out against what she sees as the genocide in Sri Lanka, M.I.A becomes a divisive pop cultural figure, and the doco cogently captures the emotional marks that this leaves on her. Though famous for flipping the bird while playing back-up to Madonna as part of the half-time entertainment at The Super Bowl (the resultant boilover is a highlight of the doco), M.I.A is much more than a mere controversy magnet. A rare “brown” voice on the world stage, she has an undeniable authenticity, despite being constantly attacked for her now lavish lifestyle. There’s definitely some kind of gender slam going on when it comes to M.I.A, and Matangi/Maya/M.I.A succeeds in both redressing the balance by providing her with an undiluted platform of her own, and also in its crafting of a portrait of a truly original and one-off talent.