It’s rare to have a documentary focus on a single person, with decades worth of material and background feel contrastingly in-depth and shallow at the same time. It becomes evident that the documentary has far more to cover than it would ordinarily; the title of the documentary reflects the three personas of MIA, real name Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam. Matangi is the immigrant story, Maya is the activist and MIA the pop-star. The three illicit applause, confusion and condemnation in equal measure; rooted in the depths of Sri Lanka and the war there.
The format of the smaller screen suits the documentary most with its strong use of archive footage which would possibly look blurry and out-of-date on a cinema screen, but on the comfort of a laptop it feels far more inviting. One of the key strengths of the documentary is the amount of footage available because of MIA’s desire to be a documentarian herself. Starting from her time studying at St Martins College to her latest pop hits, MIA has hours of footage of candid shots, confessionals and interviews she has with friends and family through the decades. Edited in non-chronological order, we’re taken through her journey at an emotional and intellectual level, from naivety to maturity. MIA is proud to stand for the things she believes in, though there is very little here about her music.
The director Steve Loveridge is reported to have wanted to focus on MIA's roots to provide context to her music which is usually filled with an undertone of political awareness. The film is concerned with what informs her decisions, rather than the decisions themselves. Key moments, such as MIA receiving condescension in US interviews, her middle finger at the Super Bowl and the rave response to her albums are brought up but never followed through. Even her attendance as the Oscars for her contribution to Slumdog Millionaire is brushed passed as a minor achievement.
Steve Loveridge tries to focus on the conflict in Sri Lanka, a story which itself should be its own documentary. MIA as a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee moves to the UK to escape the violence there. An issue she feels more personally as her father was an activist in the war and only reunited with his family when MIA was well into her teens. It is here that her activism takes root and her desire to bring to light the war in Sri Lanka. Despite the condescension of journalists and politicians, who tell her to stick to being a popstar, MIA continues to speak as an activist or through her work as an artist. As the film concludes it becomes clear that the activist and immigrant personas are covered, but the presence of the artist is missing, painting an incomplete picture of her identity.
Matangi / Maya / MIA is available on I-Tunes, DVD and On-Demand.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.
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