The first images of MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A, Steve Loveridge’s long-awaited documentary about the rapper and singer-songwriter M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasm), show swirling green lights coming in and out of focus while a young woman talks about directing, performing and being in front of a camera. Some infectious beats creep in with a hip-hop weight and unmissable magnetic vocals. She’s distorted, it’s an abstract introduction to the subject. This opening teases what expectations might predict from a tribute to the colour-soaked trailblazing musician – but it soon gives way to a much more complicated, messy film.
In a rare instance of Steve audibly directing Maya, he asks from behind the camera early on in their journey: “Why don’t you just shut up?”. What he really seems to be asking is “Why don’t you ever just shut up”. She keeps dancing unconcerned, already showing signs of the self-affirmed ‘bandit’ she became – but Steve probes further: “Why are you a problematic popstar?”. It’s hard to work out whether this is playful teasing, or a warning sign of a deeper problem in their friendship. As the pair take their seats at the 2018 Berlinale press conference to promote the film, the noticeable tension between them points to the latter.
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