Fusion Fest Holds Directing Masterclass with Alum Melina Matsoukas

Kyna McClenaghan, Contributing Writer

The line of people waiting for Tisch alum and director Melina Matsoukas — known for her work on Beyonce’s “Formation” — circled around the building, eager for her interview with Tisch experimental film professor Darryl Wilson. The audience finally piled into the room, taking up all of the seats, standing room and stairs.

The event was hosted as part of the annual NYU Fusion Film Festival, which highlights the achievements of women in the filmmaking, television and new media industries.

Matsoukas, who has directed critically-acclaimed music videos like Rihanna’s “We Found Love” in addition to “Formation,” has also worked with Ne-Yo, Ludacris, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Her most recent project is the HBO Series “Insecure,” which features Golden Globe nominee Issa Rae.

During her interview, Matsoukas cited education as being integral to her artistic process as she maintains an intellectual approach to her work. Not only were her film courses helpful — she claimed she returns to old textbooks even to this day — but her creative process also involves thorough research on locations, demographics and artists. Her minor in African-American studies has also allowed her to grapple with racial injustice in her work.

Although she has enjoyed immense commercial success, Matsoukas’ goal is to enact social change through her work. This commitment to social justice and racial reconciliation was best seen through the screenings of the Grammy award-winning “Formation” and the recent Nike “Equality” campaign. While discussing Issa Rae’s character in “Insecure,” she mentioned the passion behind the show to feature women of color who are radically different in personality and situation. Matsoukas also passed on advice to other women of color in artistic communities.

“You’re meant to be there, you belong, and you have to be stronger [than the average person],” Matsoukas said.

Because of her motivation to express political issues through her work, she encouraged the artists in the room to remain committed to the goals of their artistic endeavors, and not to be distracted by more commercial interests that don’t forward those objectives.

Tisch graduate student Ari Malenciano said she was excited to be in another space with Matsoukas and get to know her as a person, in addition to hearing about her creative process and its political entanglements. Gabriella Athena Moses, a Tisch Film and TV alum, discussed her admiration for Matsoukas’ use of magical realism. Moses was reassured by Matsoukas’ agency over her choice of projects, and was excited to hear more from a young woman of color who was not only behind the camera, but in the public eye having her work recognized.

Attendees ranged in age and school affiliation — some not even associated with NYU. Matsoukas’ culturally relevant material, with narratives so powerful they can be captured in just a few minutes, is undoubtedly what drew such crowds and will continue to do so.


Email Kyna McClenaghan at [email protected].