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Berlinale Bloggers 2018
MAYA/MATANGI/M.I.A. - Portrait of the artist never quite reveals the whole M.I.A

© Courtesy of Cinereach

Artist. Mother. Activist. The British/Sri Lankan musician M.I.A. has many personas. This film doc attempts to encompass all of them.

By Grace Barber-Plentie

Born Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, M.I.A. is a British/Sri Lankan musician and artist. She is an activist. She causes controversy. She is a mother. While it would be easy for director Steve Loveridge to pick and choose just one fact of M.I.A.’s being for his film, he attempts to blend all of these together to create an engaging and honest depiction of M.I.A., whilst documenting her life.


MAYA/MATANGI/M.I.A. is an engaging watch, due largely to Loveridge’s access to years’ worth of Arulpragasam’s video archives, spanning her childhood having moved from Sri Lanka to Britain, her friendship with Elastica’s Justine Frischmann and the genesis of her own music career. Loveridge is clearly a talented filmmaker, who pieces together Arulpragasm’s life story compellingly to create a multi-layered portrait that also serves as a critique of both the Sri Lankan crisis and the modern world of journalism.


Of all the roles Arulpragasm plays as M.I.A., it’s that of her as a rebel, anarchist and activist that easily comes to the forefront. Throughout the film she is frank and unflinching in her stance about the mistreatment of Tamil people in Sri Lanka, even when she considers herself to be treated as a laughing matter by the press. It’s fascinating to see a depiction of a strong woman of colour who believes in herself and her roots in film.
However, the M.I.A. that we see in the film seems a little at odds with the M.I.A. that we’ve seen in recent years. She is an activist, this has made clear. Yet her critiques about Black Lives Matter, one of the most high-profile activist groups of recent years, are completely missing from the film. So too is the recent controversy around the London branch of Afropunk festival choosing her as a headliner for their first festival.
MAYA/MATANGI/M.I.A © Courtesy of Cinereach


Perhaps this is the trouble with Loveridge making a film about someone he is so close to - he presents his M.I.A. to us. And while there’s nothing wrong with sharing a personal portrait of your best friend, true documentary filmmaking (at least to this writer anyway) should seek to give a fair, unbiased portrait of your subject.