Chithra Vedantam remembers first coming across M.I.A.’s music in middle school. Now a sophomore at IU Bloomington studying Linguistics and French from Fishers, Ind., Vedantam was drawn to the rapper’s music for its strong political messages and incorporation of styles that had never before been part of mainstream hip-hop. Beyond that, though, Vedantam also took inspiration from M.I.A.’s status as a South Asian pop star on a global stage.
“For many South Asian girls around the world, M.I.A. was the first major artist who looked like them,” Vedantam said.
On the evening of Apr. 8, M.I.A.’s story came to IU Bloomington in Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., a critically acclaimed documentary about the musician’s life, music and political activism. One of three films in the Movement: Asian/Pacific America Film Series, the screening was made possible by the Asian Culture Center, Asian American Studies Program, Global Popular Music Mellon Platform and IU Cinema.
Held in the month of April, the screening was just one part of IU Bloomington’s celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM). With events including film screenings, panel discussions and celebrations, IU’s celebration of AAPIHM brings all of Indiana University’s campuses together to recognize the achievements of the AAPI community. On the Bloomington campus, many of the events during AAPIHM are organized through the Asian Culture Center, a center supported by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA).
"As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Movement: Asian/Pacific America Film Series is a wonderful way to experience the diverse stories and perspectives from across the AAPI community,” said Yolanda Treviño, assistant vice president for strategy, planning and assessment for OVPDEMA.
The screening of Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. capped off the Movement: Asian/Pacific America Film Series, which brought several stories of members of the AAPI community to IU Bloomington. With films touching on stories including generations of families impacted by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and a magic realist telling of the bonds that form between neighbors, the Movement Film Series captured a variety of AAPI experiences and sparked conversations about the contemporary AAPI community, both at IU Bloomington and across the country.
“I hope students gain an interest in these filmmakers and the stories they are trying to tell,” said Sarah Moon Stamey, program associate at the Asian Culture Center. “I also hope the films make them curious about issues and communities they would not have normally been exposed to.”
As the final film in the series, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. built upon the themes of intersectional AAPI identities that appear throughout IU’s celebration of AAPIHM. M.I.A., whose full name is Mathangi Arulpragasam, was born into a life of political struggle; her father was a founder of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a militant group that fought for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka. Early in her childhood, Mathangi moved with most of her family to the United Kingdom, where she discovered a love for film and music as a way to express her personal and political voice.
After adopting the stage name M.I.A., Mathangi became one of the world’s most talked-about and politically active pop stars, with singles like “Paper Planes” dominating the airwaves. Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. tells the story of Mathangi’s music and the personal aspects of her identity that continue to influence her art, political activism and personal life.
According to Ellen Wu, associate professor of history and director of the Asian American Studies Program at IU Bloomington, the film series added critical perspectives about AAPI communities that will continue to spark important conversations on campus.
“This year's Movement Film Series terrifically showcased the border-and-boundary crossing nature of Asian American/Pacific Islander/diasporic filmmaking right now,” Wu said. “The themes of our series are central to the scholarly field of Asian American Studies--identity, belonging, and power--and our three selections spoke to them in inventive ways.”
Vedantam, who introduced the film as the undergraduate liaison for the Asian American Studies Program, said that both Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. and the Movement Film Series did a wonderful job in bringing diverse stories from the AAPI community to IU Bloomington.
“It captured the experience of people who didn’t necessarily grow up in Asia or the Pacific Islands, but feel very connected to their heritage,” Vedantam said.
IU’s celebration of AAPIHM continues throughout the month of April. To learn more, visit the Asian Culture Center’s website.