MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

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Even if you’re not a fan of hip-hop, you’ve likely heard some of British–Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A.’s music. Her “O Saya” was featured in Slumdog Millionaire, which earned her an Oscar nomination. Her 2007 song “Paper Planes,” deemed by many critics one of the best songs of the 2000’s, was one of the biggest hits of that decade, and has transcended the genre to become an anthem for the dispossessed younger generations; its lyrics have recently gone meme-ified.

But you don’t need to be a fan of hip-hop, as I’m not, to be blown away by Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., the tremendous documentary about Maya Arulpragasam, her work, and the controversies that swirl around her. A challenge to celebrity culture and a musician who can’t not be political about her music, she is a rare breath of fresh anger and passion and don’t-give-a-fuck what she’s “supposed” to be or do as an artist and as a woman. She’s always been like this, as we see in abundant footage shot by the artist herself across her complicated life (she originally thought to be a documentary filmmaker). Her diary-like observations paint a compelling portrait of the several cultural crossroads she exists at: between poverty and wealth, East and West, war and (relative) peace… between music as entertainment and music as rage against an ugly status quo. Continue reading…

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).