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Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. review - a fantastically intimate documentary about the British Sri Lankan rapper

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Verdict: Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. presents a vibrant picture of an extraordinary individual, with a vital political message at its heart.

M.I.A. (aka Maya Arulpragasam) is a rapper whose songs have become part of the cultural cannon against all odds. This documentary tells her story through remarkable footage she has collated throughout her life.

A documentary is certainly easier to make when the subject herself is passionate about documentary filmmaking, and therefore has filmed an extraordinary amount of her own life.

Though her songs may be familiar (Paper Planes, Bad Girls), certainly to our generation, her life story isn’t as familiar. You might be surprised to learn that Maya is the daughter of the founder of the Tamil Tigers - the resistance movement in Sri Lanka who fight against the ethnic cleansing of the genocidal government.

Alongside this story - the story of Maya’s family and history - we also see her rise to fame in the music industry, and how the two interweave. A political musician and a young woman, the documentary shows Maya at her most powerful and her most vulnerable. A woman whose story has often been twisted and co-opted by the media, this film gives her the platform to tell her own story in her own words. It’s unbelievably powerful.

From journeying back to Sri Lanka to reconnect with her extended family, to the creation of her first songs in her bedroom, to performing at the Superbowl with Madonna and Nicki Minaj - this journey is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

A once in a lifetime look behind the curtain of pop stardom as well as a forceful piece of activism - the contradictions of this film mirror those of Maya herself. A complex figure, she lays out her journey with all its complexities and dares the audience to make a judgement.

Accusations of terrorism and life in an active war zone are balanced by the highs of performing at a festival for the first time, dancing in her room, and her relationship with her husband and son.

There’s a sinister undertone to the film - though Maya’s strength is admirable throughout, there’s a sense of desperation in the very fact that this film had to be made in the first place. The media cycle’s vicious treatment of her positions this film as an active and vital act of taking back control of her own narrative.

Directed by Steve Loveridge - a close friend who appears in some of the footage - the trust between director and subject is clear from the intimacy of the documentary. This personal story sends a powerful political message, not only about the horrors suffered in Sri Lanka, but of the agenda that drives the news cycle here in the UK and in America.

In an age of “fake news” dominating, it’s important to remember there are always multiple sides to every story, and that questioning our sources is as vital as ever.

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. arrives in cinemas on September 21st. Find out more on the official website.

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