M.I.A. is a Sri Lankan born and British raised pop singer unlike many of her contemporaries. In the new documentary Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., this comes through loud and clear even though the film itself is a bit scatterbrained. Still, Steve Loveridge provides a close look at a compelling artist who often combines politics and provocation in her music.
She was born Maya Arulpragasam, the daughter of a Tamil resistance leader. Due to this, her mother moved her and her siblings at a young age to London as refugees. Loveridge is given full access to Maya's home movies which helps paint her progression from filmmaker to musician. Her first album was made primarily with a cheap keyboard but sold 100,000 copies and announced a new voice in music. That voice combines sounds and influences from both London and Sri Lanka into something completely fresh. Her second album featured the smash hit "Paper Planes" and launched M.I.A. into a higher profile.
This is where much of the documentary spends its time, focusing on how Maya dealt with a platform to speak to the turmoil in her home country. She commits to speaking out about the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan civil war whenever she can. As is expected, this invites much criticism. This all culminates with her infamous Super Bowl performance with Madonna and Nicki Minaj. During her brief verse, she flipped off the camera and essentially all of the NFL. The NFL sued her for $16 million as a result.
Loveridge was given full access to Maya and as a result, she is the primary voice in her own story. The best moments of the film are pulled from her own footage. We occasionally get an inside look into her motivations and process for making music but too often we only get a sense of her trajectory and not her missteps. Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. gives us plenty of Maya's perspective but very rarely do we get an outside perspective. For fans of M.I.A., this is great and confirms what a strong and self-made artist she is. For those unfamiliar with her, the film will seem far too bias.