The New M.I.A. Documentary Isn’t the Film She Would Have Made, But This One’s Probably Better

Director Steve Loveridge depicts popstar Maya Arulpragasam as a complex, flawed human being.

Getting people to care about conflicts in faraway lands is a losing battle. But try telling that to 43-year-old Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (stage name M.I.A.), whose family fled war-torn Sri Lanka for London when she was nine, leaving her “terrorist” father behind with the Tamil separatist group he founded.

Arulpragasam’s passion for the Tamil cause infuses her art. Her first album, Arular, bears her father’s name, and her “Born Free” video—wherein young redheads are rounded up and executed—presents a jarring metaphor for Sri Lankan government atrocities. Her activism is also front and center in Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., an impressive new film chronicling Arulpragasam’s journey from child refugee to provocative pop star.

Director Steve Loveridge offers an intimate look at her family life, her formative bond with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann, and her struggle to be taken seriously as the rare Tamil celebrity in Western pop culture. He also chronicles Arulpragasam’s emotional journey back to Sri Lanka to visit kin, and her strained relationship with a dad who put revolution before family—and who, at one point, recalls how he smuggled explosives onto a flight home by hiding them under some toys.

“It’s not the film I would have made,” she told Billboard after the Sundance premiere. But that’s a good thing. Armed with amazing footage from Arulpragasam’s early days as an aspiring documentarian, Loveridge depicts the star as vulnerable, fallible, and altogether human.

Her shamed yet defiant re­action to the massive shitstorm she caused by flipping the bird during a Super Bowl halftime show is instantly relatable. She spars with the media and at one point, feeling distressed, uses her own camera as a therapist. Whatever you think of M.I.A.’s unique and danceable pop fusion of East and West, the new film, out September 28, has much to convey—both about an unusual personality and the world at large.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate