The New M.I.A. Documentary Isn’t the Film She Would Have Made, But This One’s Probably Better

Director Steve Loveridge depicts popstar Maya Arulpragasam as a complex, flawed human being.

Getting people to care about conflicts in faraway lands is a losing battle. But try telling that to 43-year-old Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (stage name M.I.A.), whose family fled war-torn Sri Lanka for London when she was nine, leaving her “terrorist” father behind with the Tamil separatist group he founded.

Arulpragasam’s passion for the Tamil cause infuses her art. Her first album, Arular, bears her father’s name, and her “Born Free” video—wherein young redheads are rounded up and executed—presents a jarring metaphor for Sri Lankan government atrocities. Her activism is also front and center in Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., an impressive new film chronicling Arulpragasam’s journey from child refugee to provocative pop star.

Director Steve Loveridge offers an intimate look at her family life, her formative bond with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann, and her struggle to be taken seriously as the rare Tamil celebrity in Western pop culture. He also chronicles Arulpragasam’s emotional journey back to Sri Lanka to visit kin, and her strained relationship with a dad who put revolution before family—and who, at one point, recalls how he smuggled explosives onto a flight home by hiding them under some toys.

“It’s not the film I would have made,” she told Billboard after the Sundance premiere. But that’s a good thing. Armed with amazing footage from Arulpragasam’s early days as an aspiring documentarian, Loveridge depicts the star as vulnerable, fallible, and altogether human.

Her shamed yet defiant re­action to the massive shitstorm she caused by flipping the bird during a Super Bowl halftime show is instantly relatable. She spars with the media and at one point, feeling distressed, uses her own camera as a therapist. Whatever you think of M.I.A.’s unique and danceable pop fusion of East and West, the new film, out September 28, has much to convey—both about an unusual personality and the world at large.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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