Arts District

New Documentary About Rapper M.I.A. Premieres at the Parkway Theatre

The film offers insights about the life and activism of the genre-bending artist.

By Angela N. Carroll | October 19, 2018, 10:51 am

-Flickr / Creative Commons
Arts District

New Documentary About Rapper M.I.A. Premieres at the Parkway Theatre

The film offers insights about the life and activism of the genre-bending artist.

By Angela N. Carroll | October 19, 2018, 10:51 am

-Flickr / Creative Commons

Before Maya Arulpragasam became the genre-bending rapper M.I.A., she dreamed of being a documentary filmmaker and hoped to chronicle narratives she rarely saw, like those of her family, Tamil people, and other marginalized communities.

Now, viewers can get a glimpse of that world with new documentary Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. by director Stephen Loveridge, which premieres at the Parkway Theatre on Friday, October 19. The film offers new insights about the life, trials, and activism of an artist whose sound ruled the early 2000s.

In the film, we learn that her father was a Sri Lankan revolutionary, a founding member in the Tamil Resistance Movement, a collective who fought against the genocide of the Tamil people. In 1995, when Maya was 10 years old, she and her family were forced to flee Sri Lanka, and emigrate to an immigrant ghetto in Britain. While there, Maya was exposed to struggles of other peoples and found a particular connection to the African-American experience through hip-hop and by reading anti-colonial literature from scholars like Frantz Fanon.

One of the highlights of the documentary is its inclusion of behind the scene footage of M.I.A. traveling around the world to gather sounds for her second album, Kala. In an effort to produce a truly global sound, M.I.A. worked with musicians in Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Jamaica, Central Africa and Black America, with significant time spent in Baltimore. One thing that always drew me to the soundscapes M.I.A. produced on Kala was the bass and meter it sourced from Baltimore Club. It is no surprise that Philadelphia-bred producer Diplo was highly influenced by Baltimore Club and reached out to legendary Baltimore-based producer Blaqstarr to work on cuts for M.I.A.’s second album, Kala. Tracks written and produced by Blaqstarr include “The Turn” and “World Town,” which incorporated elements from Blaqstarr’s classic banger, “Hands Up Thumbs Down.”

Music aside, the film’s recurrent theme is that of conflict—M.I.A.’s struggle to find balance between the privilege and ambivalence of celebrity, and her self-imposed responsibility to, like her father, use her platform as a vehicle to address devastating civil injustices in Sri Lanka. Family photographs, found footage, and documentary video shot by Maya, intercut with more recent footage by Loveridge, a longtime friend and early art school classmate, reveal the artist’s eminent failure to leverage her celebrity for the freedom of Tamil people and also maintain her celebrity.

Every culture has a caste system, an “othered” population that usually has a darker complexion, follows a religious system other than Christianity or a belief that is outside of the Abrahamic religious structure, or is a different ethnic group or class than the nations ruling class. The documentary reveals that, despite these global inequities, people, especially those from so-called first world nations, quickly forget that we are implicated by our avoidance to combat systemic inequalities.

In 2010, around the release of Maya, an album notoriously reviled for its visceral music video “Born Free,” which depicted the violence of genocide by using white, red-haired victims in place of people of color, M.I.A. went on a media tour to call out the Sri Lankan governments participation in the genocide of Tamil people. The response was anything but favorable. Major media outlets including The New York Times and The Guardian, among others, quickly mocked and discredited her motives. In many ways Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. seems to try to shift the narrative away from that gas lighting, and the perception that M.I.A. was merely an airheaded, unintellectual persona, towards a more realized and historically nuanced reflection, in the artist’s own words, about her journey to become M.I.A. and her persistent support for the freedom and protection of Tamil people.

The documentary is a slow burn that leaves a lasting impression about how quickly one’s politics can make them fall out of favor with popular culture.




Meet The Author

Angela N. Carroll is a contributing contemporary visual art, performance, and film criticism writer for BmoreArt, Arts.Black, Sugarcane Magazine, and Umber Magazine. She received her MFA in digital arts and new media from the University of California at Santa Cruz and currently teaches within the film and moving image program at Stevenson University.



You May Also Like


Arts District

Little Match Girl Performance Immerses Audience in Completely New Way

Baltimore Choral Arts Society and MICA team up to deliver innovative approach to Hans Christian Andersen story.

Arts & Culture

Antero Pietila Discusses The Ghosts of Johns Hopkins

The writer examines how Hopkins’ wealth influenced Baltimore long after his lifetime.

Arts District

Black Nativity Brings Message of Hope to the Motor House

All-black cast delivers powerful songs from classic Langston Hughes work.


Arts District

Baltimore Drummers to Star in Ellen DeGeneres Web Series

The six-part series will feature Timothy Fletcher and Malik Perry on their quest to rebuild Baltimore.

Arts District

Vocal-Only Embody Show Returns to WTMD

The showcase celebrating the human voice comes to Towson this Thursday.

MaxSpace

Movie Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins is back with another mournful and beautiful love story.

Connect With Us

Most Read


Bryn Mawr Alum Annie Sherman Talks Playing Anna in The King and I: The Rogers & Hammerstein classic comes to the Hippodrome on February 19.

Ana Rodney Puts Maternal Health of Black Women at the Forefront: The doula and activist started MOMCares as a way to advocate for black mothers.

Best Places For Parents to Restore Peace and Sanity Away From Kids: Whether you have two hours (or two minutes), take some time for yourself.

Union Craft and DuClaw to Both Release LGBTQ-Inspired Beers: Divine IPA and Unicorn Farts sour ale will each debut in March.

The First Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week Kicks Off: Local vegan advocates promote healthy lifestyle and inclusive community.