Biography / Documentary / Music

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 89%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 90%
IMDb Rating 7.5 10 1122


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Nicki Minaj as Herself
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by markgorman 7 / 10

One for the fans rather than the masses, but it explores interesting territory.

No ordinary pop documentary, reads the poster, but M.I.A. is no ordinary pop star.


I have been a fan of Maya Arulpragasam (AKA M.I.A) for over a decade now so this film came as a pleasant surprise. Allegedly it's been over a decade in the making and the relationship between Maya and the filmmaker, Steve Loveridge, has been, to say the least, "challenging".

She's a bloody difficult woman, as it reveals.

The daughter of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist minority resistance group that was formed in 1976, she had to flee her home land of Sri Lanka in 1986 to set up home in London with her mother, brother and sister while her dad fought the good fight in the face of what she claims was 'ethnic cleansing'. It was ten years before she met her father again.

Clearly she has inherited her father's sense of justice and fighting spirit.

Basing her unique style of hip hop on political oppression she has been an unlikely success, rising to top the Billboard dance charts and performing alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl where she raised her middle finger to camera and in doing so enraged the NFL so much that they sued her for $16.6 million.

Her right to be angry is, in my opinion, quite reasonable but clearly her detractors think it is a stunt as she has gathered considerable wealth since her politically oppressed immigrant days.

For me, her wealth is irrelevant.

The documentary is a curate's egg. Some of it rambles almost incoherently, using found footage on dodgy VHS tape from her childhood, some of it is expertly shot. Its timeline is also so scattergun as to be quite confusing at times and this jolts the narrative. At times one wonders what the point really is.

She doesn't shirk criticism, but the reaction of the NFL on American TV drew loud guffaws from the audience I was in at their petty outrage. It's certainly a precursor to Colin Kaepernick's 'Taking the Knee' and a good, if a little childish, one at that.

Madonna was not overly happy.

For fans of M.I.A. this is a must see, for others I doubt you will be engrossed.

For me, even as a fan, it took a good hour to reel me in. But once there I was sold.

Reviewed by sunheadbowed 9 / 10

Refuge to riches.

'Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.' is fascinating viewing, one of the most gripping, touching and chilling musical biography/documentaries of recent years, and certainly one of the most important pieces of filmmaking ever made about Sri Lanka or even just modern politics in the ugly, self-defeating era of Brexit.

Considering that M.I.A.'s original choice of career was filmmaking, the film features a priceless wealth of intimate camcorder footage from throughout her life, from her early years as a very young pop-loving refugee in London, to befriending Justine Frischmann of Elastica in the mid-90s and becoming an unlikely Britpop groupie, to her adult return to Sri Lanka and emotional reunion with her war-maimed grandmother, to her wide-eyed early years of success, performing at Coachella and Lollapalooza, all the way up to her 'disgraced' Super Bowl performance and the ludicrous aftermath.

Just like the star of the show, this film is very political, very unflinching; a lazy conclusion would be to consider the film more about Maya and Sri Lanka rather than her music, but by showing us exactly where she came from, what she sings about and what motivates her, her music is actually done more of a service than endless talking heads describing her albums and songs would have. And when concert footage is shown it has all the more impact, it is never used as filler like in most music biography documentaries (which are usually really closer to tour videos with some talking inbetween).

Ultimately, 'Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.' ends up being about more than just music, more than M.I.A. herself, even: the film is really about corruption, how we treat other human beings, how we view refugees and other races and the plight of people suffering bloody civil war, which should be of interest to all decent human beings.

Much misunderstood, especially in America, this documentary reveals M.I.A.'s reality, and it seems a hell of a lot more believable and relatable than either America's Super Bowl morality or Britain's 'taking back control' Brexit.

The footage of M.I.A.'s attempts to talk about the genocide happening in Sri Lanka on an American talk show being shut down with a dismissive, arrogant joke about cockney accents has to be seen to be believed, the evil is quite palpable.

Reviewed by TheMovieDiorama 7 / 10

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. powerfully presents an artist's authenticity to convey a message.

Having only listened to a handful of her songs, M.I.A. was relatively unknown to me both as an artist and a person. Now that I've seen this informative documentary, she has earned my utmost respect for the work she produces and as an individual. A documentary chronicling her early childhood in guerrilla warfare Sri Lanka (Matangi), her immigration to London where she becomes inquisitive regarding the Tamil rebellion (Maya) and her rapid rise to fame as an international pop star where she utilises the medium to convey the brutality of the civil war to the masses (M.I.A.). Fame, fortune and popularity were ideals that never motivated Matangi. Through first-hand experience, she had encountered the very worst of the Sri Lankan civil war. The mass executions. Child deaths. Rape and misogyny. But naturally she felt as if no one was actively attempting to stop the war. No news coverage whatsoever. As a result of this, she utilised her natural rhythmic talents to convey the negative connotations of the war through her music. She never wanted to make a hit, but only to share her views. What this documentary does exceedingly well is make Matangi a relatable individual. Her humanity shines through, and the recordings of her family enhance this perspective. The rapid progression into her musical career coexists with her right to support the Tamil Tigers, and the two are balanced well. Loveridge does encounter a few focussing issues as he is unable to decide which topic takes priority, but for the most part integrates both aspects of her life efficiently. The second half tackles the various media outlets singling her out as a controversial artist, and that is when the film truly finds its pace. The several narrative time jumps does make her life seem disconnected, and does skew the pacing frequently. Her music makes a remarkable impression, however this documentary fails to do that. Whilst that may sound unfair, it was culturally informative and engaging despite the cumbersome narrative stumbles.

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