British rapper M.I.A. lights up this intimate documentary like a case of fireworks.
Unlike, say, ‘Amy’ (Asif Kapadia’s doc on fellow noughties icon Amy Winehouse), there’s no obvious reason why this film about rapper, producer and activist M.I.A. exists yet. Her last album was only two years ago and she still performs: so why make it? The bulk of this walk through her life – from Sri Lankan refugee to London motherhood – comprises homemade tapes taken since her teens. As befits a former film student, there’s absolutely loads of material.
The result is stuffed with fascinating moments: interrogating her long-lost father, the day he came home from fighting as a Tamil resistance leader, and doing shots in her teenage bedroom (decked out in Wu-Tang posters) stand out. And then there are the tense hours after she flipped her middle-finger at middle America at the 2012 Super Bowl. But the real joy of this film, and why I think it exists, is in knowing how much future generations will benefit from M.I.A.’s story.
Unlike Winehouse, whose influence has maybe plateaued, there’s a sense that M.I.A.’s status as a pioneering, outspoken, determined brown woman is yet to be fully celebrated in British culture. When that time comes, which surely it will, this doc will be there, waiting to influence and inspire in equal measure.