Melina Matsoukas by the Forward

Forward 50 | Melina Matsoukas: The camera queen

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In the music industry, Melina Matsoukas has long been a magic name. A renowned music-video director, Matsoukas, 38, whose father is Jewish and Greek, made a career of using her camera to reveal the radical undertones of pop, hip hop and R&B songs. Rihanna’s 2010 hit “S&M” was a (censored) radio favorite; the Matsoukas-directed video, in which the singer appears taped to a wall while confronted by reporters brandishing “Cox News” microphones and wearing ball gags, made clear that it was also a work of bruising political cynicism.

The outrage inherent in Beyoncé’s 2016 “Formation” was unmistakable, and Matsoukas’s opening shot, in the video, of the star crouched on the roof of a sinking New Orleans police car — a reference to the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina — made that outrage go viral. Following recent forays into television work, Matsoukas, this year made her feature-film debut with “Queen & Slim,” which stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith as a black couple made the subject of a national manhunt after Slim (Kaluuya) kills a police officer in self-defense. The film’s release marked a new frontier for Matsoukas, matching her dedication to probing inequity with a broader scope for her artistic vision.

(Matsoukas did not respond to our questionnaire, but we’ve got some fun facts about her to share.)

I’m sorry, Matsoukas has directed how many videos for Beyonce? At last count: 11.

First major award: The 2013 Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video — she was the first female director working on her own to ever win it. (And she won it again in 2017.)

What’s on her bookshelf? A sampling: Audre Lord, Noam Chomsky, James Baldwin, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Maya Angelou and Karl Marx.

Car: A yellow 2002 Range Rover Borrego — one of 125 ever made. (She told the magazine 1843 that she found it while location-scouting in New Orleans for “Queen & Slim,” but had wanted that model since she first saw it in a magazine at age 12.)

Which artists inspire her? In various interviews, Matsoukas goes back to two artists over and over again. First is Hype Williams, a wildly influential 90s-era music video director who has as of yet made one feature film, “Belly.” Second is Deana Lawson, a photographer who specializes in highly stylized portraits of black people in domestic spaces. The photographer Birney Imes is also on Matsoukas’s list. But perhaps most influential of all is the golden age of MTV, when music videos emerged as an art form full of ingenuity and possibility.

Hobby: Matsoukas doesn’t just like to cook; she’s apparently excellent at it. “It’s annoying that she’s both so talented as a film-maker and such a good cook,” Alisa Reynolds, the owner of the Los Angeles restaurant My Two Cents, told 1843. Matsoukas started going to My Two Cents as a customer, but now she joins Reynolds to cook at least once a week.

Read more:

Matsoukas was featured on the Forward’s list of the sexiest Jewish intellectuals of 2019.

A 2017 profile of Matsoukas in The New Yorker.

Follow Melina Matsoukas on Twitter @melinamatsoukas.

Melina Matsoukas The Camera Queen

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