M.I.A. is not one to skirt controversy.
Or politics, for that matter. I’ve blogged in the past about her unwillingness to make bubble-gum pop and her interest in melding the personal with the political. An artist of Tamil Sri Lankan descent–who was once prevented from entering the U.S. because she was wrongly labeled a terrorist–M.I.A. tackles the horrors of martial regimes and genocide in her new art film for “Born Free” (warning: the video is extremely graphic and has been pulled from YouTube and other Internet outlets). Why this unrelenting realism?
I believe her aim in depicting this extreme violence is to upend our complacency with Hollywood gore like The Matrix or Kill Bill. Ordinarily, we as audience members are complicit in the violence. “Born Free” never allows us to comply. And instead of brown people as victims (what we’re used to viewing), it’s shocking to see white, male, red-headed boys and men being hunted and killed.
M.I.A.’s “Born Free” removes the entertainment from this violence, leaving only our discomfort with violence as violence.
Last night, I watched a PBS documentary on the My Lai massacre; it provoked the same feelings of shock and disgust as this video. One documented reality; the other fictionalized it. M.I.A.’s great accomplishment is in refusing to let viewers hum idly to her music, oblivious to the daily terrors in Iraq, Sudan, and elsewhere.
Though she’s received lots of criticism for this video, I agree with M.I.A.’s convictions. Art can not be merely for consumption; it should challenge us, it should unsettle us, it should force us out of the complacency of our everyday lives.