Melina Matsoukas is the woman behind some of the most iconic and influential music videos of the last decade. And when I say iconic, I mean capital-I ICONIC, videos that spawned a thousand feeble imitators, videos like Rihanna's "We Found Love," for which Melina won a Grammy (and was the first-ever solo female director to do so). She also directed "Pretty Hurts" and, oh yes, "Formation" by Beyoncé. Melina said working on "Formation" was "magical." "We made a story about who WE are and the world chimed in and joined us. I am thankful to be a part of that conversation," she told me. Melina has also worked with Ciara, Christina Aguilera, and Kylie Minogue. Basically, if you are a female artist breaking down barriers, you get Melina to direct your video.
Now that she's reached the top of the music-video game, Melina's decided to branch out into television. She signed on to direct and executive-produce Insecure, a new HBO comedy based on the book Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. It will be a while before we can see this collision of genius minds, but we're confident it'll become one of our must-see shows.
I talked on the phone with Melina, whose warm voice and chill vibes immediately put me at ease. She made me wish I were partying with her and her cool girlfriends (as captured on her Instagram). We talked about the important things in life like naps, how female directors are a "growing breed," and, of course, Beyoncé and Rihanna, the reigning queens of our heart.
Laia Garcia: Tell me a little bit about growing up in New York City. What were you like when you were young, and when did you realize that you were interested in filmmaking?
Melina Matsoukas: I grew up in the Bronx until I was about ten, and then we moved to New Jersey. I grew up in a very multicultural family. My mother is Afro-Cuban and Jamaican, and my father is Greek and Jewish. I felt the influences from all the different cultures — the stories, the ideas. And my parents are both communists and activists, so they've always been all about equality and doing something important with your life. I always wanted to do something big, I just didn't know how I would go about changing the world.
I went to NYU, and I was always a good student, good at everything, but never really passionate about anything except for photography. Just meeting some of the filmmakers at NYU, I was like, "Oh my God, this is my way to change the world." It was a way to make my voice heard, and also tell some stories and make change in a place that people like me are usually unheard.
LG: How did you get into making music videos?
MM: I'm definitely an MTV baby. I love music. My cousin was head of production at this very small production company in New York, so I assisted her. As a filmmaker, it was a great foray into this world where you could be experimental and you could learn. It's really the only genre in film where the director has a lot of control and you can kind of do anything. You could do something fashion oriented. You could do something super-political. You can tell a story or you can not. It's a nice way to hone your skills and flex that muscle and also just be creative. I still love it.
LG: I grew up obsessed with music videos, too, and it's strange how very few female music-video directors there are. Like, there was Tamra Davis ...