WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS HIGHLY GRAPHIC IMAGES OF VIOLENCE AND SEXUALITY.
The video for Born Free, the new single from politicized London rapper M.I.A., is a rather unsubtle statement on the persecution of minorities.
Over nine minutes in length, this cinematic clip follows a group of policemen as they barge into an apartment complex, brutally trespass into various homes and finally isolate their prey: a gangly, redheaded youth. He is eventually thrown into a paddywagon with other redheads and taken to a crude settlement area. What happens next has echoes of a number of current geopolitical issues (the Palestinian territories and Guantanamo, particularly). The latter part of the video contains cruelty, intimidation and, yes, some exploding bodies. The highly contentious M.I.A. (real name Maya Arulpragasam) is of Tamil heritage, and has been openly critical about the Sri Lankan government’s treatment of Tamils, both in song and in sound bites.
Born Free is surely one of the more extreme music videos in recent memory. So much so that it’s gotten YouTube – an otherwise fairly libertarian sort of place – into quite a tizzy.
In the last day or two, there’s been some confusion about whether the clip was taken down from the video-sharing site, or whether it was merely one version that vanished. At any rate, the clip is now viewable on YouTube, but with an adult rating. Blogger Jemima Kiss over at the Guardian offers a cogent analysis of YouTube’s policy when it comes to incendiary video such as this. Kiss also notes that M.I.A.’s Twitter feed is completely useless in parsing this controversy. (I agree — most of the time, M.I.A. seems to be screaming in gangsta shorthand.)