British rapper M.I.A. lights up this intimate documentary like a case of fireworks.
Unlike, say, Amy (Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning doc on Amy Winehouse), there’s no obvious reason why this film about rapper, producer and activist M.I.A. should exist. 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 mother—comprises homemade tapes recorded since her teens. As befits a former film student, she has 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 America during 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 perhaps 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 it surely will, this doc will be there, waiting to influence and inspire in equal measure.