Thursday, March 29, 2018

“Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.”– Movie Review


On the opening night of the New Directors/New Films festival, I attended the New York Premiere of the documentary, “Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.”.


When singer M.I.A. becomes an outspoken political activist about her homeland in southern Asia, what impact will it have on her career?


Before M.I.A. became an internationally famous rap/hip-hop performer, she was a little girl named Maya.  Born in Sri Lanka, her family moved to England in order to escape the political upheaval that came when an increasing group of resistance fighters known as The Tamil Tigers made living in Sri Lanka a growing challenge.  One member of her family did not accompany her to England, however – that was her father, who was the founder of the Tigers. He stayed behind to not only fight with them, but to train new recruits who wanted to join them in their opposition to what they experienced as an oppressive government. 

With the freedom to grow up in England, Maya could now further pursue her love of music.  Not only did she enjoy singing, she was also capable of writing her own songs. An established music producer learned of her talents and soon wanted to work with her.  Maya began recording a few songs for him and upon their release, people responded favorably. Shortly thereafter, her success in the music industry was well underway; Maya – who eventually became known as M.I.A. – not only started recording more but also gained greater visibility by performing in larger venues.  It wasn’t long before her fame reached the United States and she eventually moved to Los Angeles when her career really took off.

Eventually, M.I.A. started showing up on Madonna’s radar and the two occasionally worked together.  M.I.A. created a bit of a controversy when Madonna invited M.I.A. to join her in performing during the halftime show of the Super Bowl.  At one point, M.I.A. looked directly into the camera and gave the finger to viewers; she suffered enormous criticism as a result of this, especially in the conservative media and throughout middle America.  To add to her grief, the NFL didn’t exactly take kindly to her behavior either – for her little prank, they decided to sue her for more than $16 million. 


If you are planning to see Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.”, it isn’t at all necessary for you to know who the Tamils are as a prerequisite, but it certainly does help.  The reason why it helps is because M.I.A. does such a poor job of telling a story that’s not directly about her that she either can’t or won’t educate the audience; it’s almost as if she’s assuming you know who they are and what their plight is – and if you don’t then you don’t matter.  It seems that on a certain level, she wants to tell their story but not really – she’d much rather tell you about herself because apparently she’s convinced that she’s the most fascinating mammal on the planet.

What doesn’t help is the fact that MIA’s father, the founder of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, is perceived by some as a terrorist.  With that information, it becomes something of a challenge to root either for her or her cause. Despite the fact that the cause for which the Tigers are fighting may indeed be a valid one, they use violence to make their point, forcing the Sri Lanka government to respond in kind.  Keeping that in mind, it is no wonder that a war which started in 1983 didn’t end until 2009. Which also raises another question:  Why is M.I.A. still so consumed with this all these years later? Did it inform her music? Hard to know since the lyrics are largely indecipherable.  

Based on what we see in this documentary, M.I.A. is less consumed with political activism than she is with herself.  She apparently considers herself a genuine bad-ass and seems to want to go out of her way to reinforce that in the mind of her audience (or at least her hardcore fans).  What was Madonna’s reaction to M.I.A. giving the finger? How was the lawsuit with the NFL resolved? Don’t depend on the documentary to tell you; once again, another example of how M.I.A. was more interested in creating her own version of a reality show than in telling a coherent story.  Perhaps it’s finally time to reciprocate and give M.I.A. the finger. 

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. (2018) on IMDb

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