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. While simultaneously rejecting standard formats for controversial content, director Melina Matsoukas follows in a similar vein. Matsoukas’ brand of provocation 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 were previously not represented.
Matsoukas began her career shaping powerful brand stories 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.”
Matsoukas 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.
Her recognizable visual watermark and innate understanding of diverse storytelling have landed her in the director’s chair for global campaigns of major commercial clients, such as Adidas, Stella McCartney, Coca-Cola, and Nike. In 2018, the latter tapped her to work with leading 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 Ad Age’s prestigious “Creativity 50” in 2016. The list honors the most forward-thinking culture shifters across multiple disciplines.
Additionally, her explorations of long-form storytelling have yielded critically acclaimed results. As an executive producer and director on Issa Rae’s breakout HBO series Insecure, Matsoukas made 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, Matsoukas 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 create a sensitive, understated portrayal of black queerness and LGBTQIA relationships.
Her feature film debut Queen & Slim, written by Lena Waithe, premiered over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2019 and earned her a DGA nomination in the First-Time Feature Film category. That same year, she received the American Film Institute’s 29th Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal, given that she graduated from the Conservatory with a Masters of Fine Arts in Cinematography.
In 2021, Matsoukas won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials for her multiple award-winning film “You Love Me,” an emotionally stirring celebration of black joy and resilience. Her win also made history as she became the first woman and person of color to receive the honor.
Matsoukas is currently developing new film and television projects and recently announced that she has a first-look deal with FX.