«Why are you a problematic pop star? » director Stephen Loveridge asks M.I.A. in his documentary. The answers provided by the film point towards more than an uncompromising and sometimes challenging personality.
Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. is not quite like most music documentaries. But then its subject, M.I.A., is also quite different from most pop stars.
From her debut album Arular (2005), she has positioned herself as a distinctive and innovative artist, combining elements from various genres such as hip hop, dancehall, electro, punk, and world music. Furthermore, due to her reluctance to follow the rules for ‘proper’ pop star behaviour – like when she showed her middle finger to the camera during a performance with Madonna at the American Super Bowl Show, or released a music video showing red-haired young men being executed – she has been called an « anti-pop star ».
Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam was born in London in 1975, but moved with her family to her parents’ native Sri Lanka when she was six months old. At the age of 11, she returned to London with her mother and siblings, since they were no longer safe in the civil war-torn country. While growing up, she had little contact with her father, a founding member of the militant Tamil group Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students, which was later linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
A challenging process
Whether Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. is a music documentary, can be also debated. When she first saw the film, M.I.A. was surprised that it didn’t contain more about her music. The director, Stephen Loveridge – a close friend of Maya since they both attended film studies in London in the nineties – was allegedly given full artistic freedom by the artist to make the documentary. However, his road to completing the film would turn out to be long and challenging. In 2013, Loveridge stated that he would « rather die » than continue working on the documentary, which was meant to be a more conventional ‘pop doc’, including interviews with various well-known collaboration partners. Today, both the artist and the director seem happy with representing the film in the media – a film that has become quite different from what M.I.A.’s management originally envisioned.
«M.I.A. has not least used her position to raise awareness of the political situation in Sri Lanka.»