Illustration Credit: Maarya Zafar

“All I wanna do is [sound of gun shooting and reloading, cash register opening] and take your money”. The chorus of the 2006’s song Paper Planes by the British singer M.I.A caused great controversy and made her famous. However, the artist always defended that it was misunderstood and that her intent was to criticize immigrant stereotypes. The documentary Matangi/Maya/M.I.A was awarded Best World Cinema Documentary at this year’s Sundance edition, deals with the singer’s provocative political attitude and the media’s attempt to discredit her at all times.

 

Through personal and mostly rare footage, we get an intimate look at M.I.A’s life and personality. The film focuses on events that are central to her identity, including her arrival to the UK as a refugee after escaping her father’s political activism in Sri Lanka. Some of the most interesting moments of the film are of her return to Sri Lanka. She is depicted as warm and uncomfortable with her family members, who insist on taking her to the mall and to tell her she hasn’t lived “enough” of the war there. Does she belong? We ask ourselves, simultaneously as she does.

 

That is precisely where the documentary excels: at showing us her perspective, her search for identity, and her multiple belongings in front of many in Sri Lanka and the West who deem her inadequate. Her responses to those critics are raw (“F*** the New York Times”, she tweeted) and compelling, parallel to the style of the rough film clips. Another powerful part of the movie was that it allowed the audience to indulge in their childhood nostalgia. For this reason, we can expect the documentary to gain relevance over the decades.

 

The film’s rough edits and linear narrative are a reflection of the difficulty of making an intriguing script out of an extensive amount of footage, seven hundred hours worth. However, the memory of her outspoken attitude in face of adversity stays with us well after the film ends.

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