M.I.A. Shocks and Awes With “Born Free” Video

By J.D. Benjamin – BASICS Issue #20 July/Aug 2010

Footage is released on the internet of fully armed police raiding a working class rooming house, brutally beating and terrorizing anyone in their path, and rounding up members of a minority group.  It ends with a scene of unbelievable carnage and gore.

The latest Wikileak from Iraq or occupied Palestine?  Nope.  It’s the new music video for the song Born Free by M.I.A., an artist know for mixing radical politics and social commentary with her music.

Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., is a British musician, record producer, fashion designer, activist, and visual artist of Sri Lankan Tamil refugee origin.  She blew up in 2008 when her song Paper Planes was used in the trailer for Pineapple Express and the movie Slum Dog Millionaire.  She has been nominated for 2 Grammies and an Academy Award and placed on Time Magazine’s 2009 list of World’s Most Influential People.

Despite her popularity, M.I.A. has frequently had to battle censorship and attempts by governments to stifle her voice.  In 2006, the US refused to grant her an entry permit to tour in the US and briefly placed the artist on the Homeland Security Risk List.  MTV censored a lyric in one of her songs because it said “like the PLO i don’t surrender”.  Most recently, YouTube took down the Born Free video claiming that it violated the terms of service that bans anything “pornographic or gratuitously violent”.  While the ending of the video is indeed shockingly violent, in this age of “shock and awe”, war and occupation, it’s hardly gratuitous.

The video is directed by Romain Gavras, a French filmmaker known for gritty and realistic music videos, whose first film (Our Day Will Come) will be released in September.  He is the son of  Costa Gavras, director of many political thrillers such as Z, State of Seige, Missing, Amen, and Le Couperet.  Costa-Gavras’ films were scathing indictments of political repression and state sponsored violence, a message his son seems to have taken to heart.