Mathangi Arulpragasam, who is also known as M.I.A, is a woman of her word, a woman of her music and a woman of her people. Maybe we didn’t know this before, but we definitely know it now. Dating back to her developmental years caught on camera by her own filmmaking, Arulpragasam makes it clear that she refuses to make peace with being unheard. Director Stephen Loveridge has curated a documentary using footage spanning decades prior in order to highlight the grit behind the girl.
The newly released film, “MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.,” captures an intimate portrayal of Arulpragasam with her struggle as being a part of the diaspora and how it has translated through her music. The long time controversial depiction of who we know as M.I.A. is carefully broken down in an attempt at understanding what it means to come from somewhere so different and yet be expected to act just the same.
The documentary begins in Sri Lanka, home to Arulpragasam and her family, and eventually to the Tamil Tiger Resistance. What we know about M.I.A., or perhaps, what’s been marketed to us, is an obnoxious depiction of someone who throws up the middle finger during the super bowl, someone who utilizes graphic violence for views, someone who’s just the child of a terrorist, and perhaps, someone who just doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
After watching the documentary, the mistreatment of M.I.A. and her true intentions (according to the film) become very clear. The biggest miscommunication in the span of Arulpragasam’s success that was highlighted in Loveridge’s documentary is that she was famous before she decided to become an activist; when in fact it is her activism that led to her music, and in the end led to her popularity today.
Loveridge, a long time friend of Arulpragasam, works with this ignorant perspective in order to showcase her transition from Sri Lanka to the U.K., and what it meant for her in terms of life and music. We’re able to see Arulpragasam’s developing identity as someone who is different, and how it manifested through her graphic music videos and driven lyricism. Viewing the film is largely similar to propping up a camera in someone’s home, waiting years for footage to compile, and piecing together a story meant to be told. In “MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.”, at the forefront is the story of a girl who had an all too early understanding of trauma and injustice.
The first act catches an off guard Arulpragasam saying something along the lines of “Please, you have a mic, thousands of people are listening, say something that matters. Please.“
Eventually, M.I.A. does, in fact, she discusses only what matters, and she’s criticized for it relentlessly as shown in the film. Stephen Loveridge takes the statement, the drama, the gas-lighting and provides an incredible depiction of the various struggles that came together for M.I.A. to be who she is today: an activist, musician, human being.
Ironically enough, at Arulpragasam’s first viewing of the film at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s said that she didn’t enjoy it at all. It was far from what she expected and far from what many of her fans expected as well. However, she has since come around. Loveridge’s criticizing take on her as well as the way the media depicted her is an attempt at being objective; it’s up to viewers to decide how successful of an attempt it was. If you’re interested in discerning the music from the madness and the politics from the perception, “MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.” is a must-see documentary. 14 Pews, a tiny spot for independent cinema in Houston, is screening the film this coming Friday, Oct. 12 for $11. Come through for the intimate viewing and the small crowd, and most importantly, for the film.
Overall rating: 10/10
MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A (2018) Directed by Stephen Loveridge Producers: Paul Mezey, Lori Cheatle, Andrew Goldman Editors: Gabriel Rhodes, Marina Katz Starring MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A 97 min, No Rating Link to event: https://14pews.org/calendar.asp?pageid=15&calid=1816