The history of film is full of provocateurs. From the earliest agitators to more contemporary lenses, there is a long-established tradition of using visual mediums to confront brutal realities and unpack societal malaise. Director Melina Matsoukas follows in a similar vein, even while simultaneously rejecting the standard formats for controversial content. Matsoukas’s brand of provocation instead comes from a unique, inherently multicultural point of view that flips existing narratives to normalize the inclusion of women and people of color in spaces where they previously were not represented.
Melina’s exploration of long-form storytelling has already yielded critically-acclaimed results, even though her work as an executive producer and director on Issa Rae’s breakout HBO series Insecure marked her first foray into scripted television. The show has been widely applauded for its cultural relevance and ability to garner mainstream appeal while still giving an authentic, positive, all-encompassing voice to the stories of women of color.
Between directorial stints with Insecure, Melina also became involved with Netflix’s Aziz Ansari- featured series Master of None. The director brought her nuanced point of view to several season two episodes, including the Emmy Award-winning “Thanksgiving” installment, written by Lena Waithe. Melina’s sharp eye and talent for normalizing the narratives of the traditionally “othered” combined with Lena’s poignant yet humorous writing to create a sensitive, understated portrayal of black queerness, and LGBTQIA relationships.
Melina’s recognizable visual watermark and innate understanding of diverse storytelling has also landed her in the director’s chair for the global campaigns of major commercial clients such as Adidas, Stella McCartney, Coca-Cola, and Nike. Most recently, the latter tapped her to work with behemoth advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy to conceptualize and direct the wildly successful Equality campaign, launched in tandem with Black History Month and starring Lebron James. The ad went on to win a Graphite pencil at the 2017 D&AD Awards and a Bronze Film Craft Lion at the 2017 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. In addition to her work in television, Matsoukas’ award- winning music videos and brand campaigns helped secure her a listing among Advertising Age’s prestigious “Creativity 50” in 2016. The list, which also includes the director’s longtime collaborator, Beyoncé, honors the most forward-thinking culture shifters across multiple disciplines.
Even before Melina began shaping powerful brand stories, she was already working with some of the biggest names in entertainment. She has previously directed projects for Jay Z, Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, Solange, Pharrell, and Rihanna, for whom she directed the MTV Best Video Award-winning visuals for “We Found Love.” Melina was the first solo female director to receive an MTV award in the Best Video category, and later went on to also win a Grammy for best long-format video for “We Found Love.”
Melina has also become a frequent creative brain trust for Beyoncé, dating back to 2011, when she was asked to come on as the creative director for the singer’s album, 4. Melina reprised her role as visual architect for the pop icon’s 2016 surprise album, Lemonade, directing the groundbreaking “Formation” music video. Inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the video’s underlying theme of black agency and overarching message of hope in the face of traumatic histories led her to become the first director to win a music Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions. Beyond that, it won six MTV VMA awards, including Video of the Year, as well as the award for Best Music Video at the 2017 Grammys. The video became a powerful rallying message for black people as they faced a divided country in the throes of tumult.
Melina is currently developing new film and television projects, and recently announced she would be spearheading an adaptation of Marlon James’ seminal novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings for Amazon Studios. She just wrapped production on her first feature film, Queen & Slim, which was written by Lena Waithe.
Melina is a proud alumnus of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She went on to complete her graduate studies at the American Film Institute (AFI) where she holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Cinematography. Melina is set to receive AFI’s 29th Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal in June 2019.