Genre: Music documentary/Biography
Directed by: Stephen Loveridge
Starring: Maya Arulpragasam
‘This is what happened to a kid whose dad ran off to be a terrorist:’ Life doesn’t turn out the same way as someone whose dad is a banker, a lawyer or a fireman.
Maya’s choice of words is interesting. Usually, it would be the other side using such highly coloured and provocative language to describe the man behind the Tamil Tiger resistance movement. Partisans might be expected to use terms such as liberator or freedom fighter.
Maya was eleven when her mother and her siblings fled the war zone in their native Sri Lanka, to resettle in the refugee enclave in London. Although, the family was warmly welcomed into the fold, life was still harsh. Maya felt as if she didn’t fit in anywhere: she was ‘shot at in Sri Lanka’ and ‘spat at in Britain’. Music was her consolation and she would drift off to sleep listening to British pop through her headphones. That was, until they were burgled. Maya could do nothing but watch as her radio was carried off to a neighbouring flat.
It might have been one of the lowest points in her life as she lay awake listening to the music spilling out from the flat across the way, but it was a turning point, too. Up until then music was Madonna and the Spice Girls, but when Maya heard her first hip hop beats it was an epiphany. She was listening to people with something to say, and hip hop was the way to say it.
While her sister was lamenting the lack of birthday and Christmas cards from their father, Maya found a source of strength and identity in his absence. Her father was fighting for ‘a human rights problem’, everything was ‘inhumane’ for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. ‘What he’s done to us, made us so strong. We are so independent. Fearless fighters.’ But, rather than taking up arms, Maya turned to documentary film making to express her activism.
Haunted by footage of a women her own age in the jungle armed with assault rifles, Maya returned to Sri Lanka hoping to reconnect with her extended family and find some answers: ‘How do women survive in the jungle’ just on a day-to-day practical level and ‘Why was it me that got away?’ Following that visit, MIA was born, and she released her debut album, Arula (named after her dad). A million copies were downloaded from Napster. ‘It happened so fast.’ Finally. MIA had a microphone, and there was no question she was going to use it.
Subversive and defiant, instead of ‘cookie cutter videos with beautiful girls’, MIA started out with a clip of, monkeys and the jungle, before moving on to exploits and video clips that would bring her both international stardom and notoriety. Because, ‘the worst thing they can do to you is make you irrelevant’.
Well, they can try …
But the woman who infamously flipped the bird to the audience during a half-time performance with Madonna at the Super Bowl in 2012 and the singer/songwriter of ‘Born Free’—a song that accompanies a deeply disturbing music clip where pale-skinned, red-haired boys are brutally hunted down by faceless military types clad in black body armour—will not be going quietly.
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