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M.I.A. Resists Censorship of Refugee Crisis-Themed ‘Borders’ Video

A French soccer team requested the artist remove all imagery of their jersey from the video.

Photo courtesy @MIAuniverse

When U.K. artist M.I.A. released her self-directed video for “Borders” in November, it wasn’t only a striking and visually dynamic piece; it also delivered an important and urgent message on the refugee crisis. The video features Maya Arulpragasam sauntering on boats, fences, and beaches surrounded by hundreds of refugees in a variety of poses and actions: climbing over each other, running in single-file lines, lifelessly resting on rafts. The bodies themselves even form the scenery at some points, spelling out “LIFE” on a fence and constructing a human ship on a beach.


But beyond the breathtaking visuals and potent political message, one of M.I.A.’s outfits has drawn the ire of the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team. In two brief moments, the artist wears a jersey that says “Fly Pirates”—a satiric take on “Fly Emirates,” the slogan of Emirates airlines, the soccer team’s sponsor. Yesterday, M.I.A. released a document on Twitter that she and her staff received in December, requesting that she remove all imagery of the shirt from her platforms as well as paying “compensation for the harm we have suffered.” The soccer club threatened legal consequences if she did not comply.

The document offers a few confusing and contradictory justifications for the notice, most notably that the jersey prominently displayed their sponsor’s logos and the video caused the club “image prejudice.” But the statement mentions how the Paris Saint-Germain Foundation donated 1 million euros to a French charity and the UNHCR in September, which contradicts the club’s discomfort in being associated with a sympathetic (yet critical) take on the crisis. Perhaps their philanthropy wasn’t for the right motives in the first place, judging from the club’s preoccupation with image and reputation.

But M.I.A. did not back down. Posting the document itself was an audacious move, shedding light on issues of censorship, erasure, and privilege. In an Instagram post, M.I.A. defiantly uploaded a photo in which she’s wearing the jersey (in a total power pose) and called out the hypocrisy of the team in her caption, writing “they have players who are 2nd gen migrants.” The video is still available on Apple Music and YouTube.

Photo courtesy @MIAuniverse

She took to Twitter to further express her disdain for the incident.

The video and song alone were a powerful representation of urgent problems regarding citizenship, immigration, and the aftermath of war. This incident not only provided another example of Western apathy—a European team wanting to absolve itself from any relation to the video—but also illuminated the ways in which those with power attempt to dictate critical discourse. Fully realizing this, M.I.A.’s refusal to back down makes her work even more poignant and relevant to the ongoing global dialogue on power and politics.

Watch the video for “Borders” below.