Queen & Slim: Director Melina Matsoukas hopes for change at the Oscars

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Friends and colleagues: Melina Matsoukas and Issa Rae

“Congratulations to those men.”

After announcing this year’s Oscar nominations, Issa Rae’s off-the-cuff reaction to another all-male Best Director shortlist was – for many – perfect shade.

“I reposted it. She’s an honest person,” says Melina Matsoukas, director of new movie Queen Slim and Issa’s best friend.

“She’s always going to shout people out and critique the powers that be if she doesn’t feel it’s equal.

“I love her for that,” Melina tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

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Melina and Issa are executive producers on Insecure, HBO’s hit comedy based on Issa’s web series Awkward Black Girl.

In the 91-year history of the Oscars, only five female directors have ever been nominated for Best Director, and only one of them – Kathryn Bigelow – has won.

Queen Slim has been critically acclaimed and Melina was eligible for a director nomination, but it never materialised.

“Yeah well…,” she says, and then laughs.

“In its history, there have also only been six people of colour nominated in the director category too,” Melina adds.

‘What needs to change is our fight’

Despite three non-white actors winning Oscars in 2019 (Rami Malek, Regina King and Mahershala Ali), this year’s nominations have once again highlighted an issue with diversity across many of the ceremony’s top categories.

In this year’s acting categories, Cynthia Erivo is the only non-white nominee.

Melina thinks this “exemplifies the systematic racism that’s within all the institutions in our country – and worldwide.

“It represents the people in power and their values and what they see and the films that they don’t see… that they discredit and devalue.”

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Jodie Turner-Smith, Daniel Kaluuya and Melina Matsoukas at the UK premiere of Queen Slim

It’s not just the Oscars that have been criticised this year.

The 2020 Baftas were also called out for having no non-white stars nominated in the acting categories.

“What needs to change is our fight,” says Melina.

“We have to come together to keep bringing volume to stories like Queen Slim. So that they’re forced to hear us.”

One silver lining is Melina’s recent nomination in the First-Time Feature Film category at the Directors Guild of America Awards. Of the four nominees, three were female (including the winner).

She’s previously been nominated for a DGA award for her television work on comedy series Master Of None.

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Queen Slim is Melina’s debut feature film and tells the story of a first date that goes terribly wrong when a police officer is accidentally shot.

The script was written by Hollywood star Lena Waithe and the cast is headed up by British stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith.

“It was a lot of blood sweat and tears,” says Melina. “The feeling now is tremendous. The process of filmmaking is quite difficult.

“Seeing the impact the movie has had on our community motivates me to keep on creating.”

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Melina has been rewarded for her work on music videos, including this Grammy

Melina is also a music video legend, directing films for Beyonce, Rihanna, Ciara, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.

Her videography is extensive, with more than 50 videos stretching back more than a decade.

She’s won two Grammy awards for directing Rihanna’s We Found Love in 2011 and Beyonce’s Formation in 2016.

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“Don’t make me choose my favourite,” she says. “Music videos are my passion and something I’ll always do.

“It’s a wonderful form of filmmaking that often gets discredited. You can be so experimental as a director and I learned my craft.

“They’re mini movies.”

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