Melina Matsoukas has never needed to stand in front of a camera to gain the world’s attention. VIBE caught up with the 29-year-old visionary mainly known for her provocative music video directing gigs with Rihanna to talk inspiration vs. plagiarism, Rihanna vs. Beyonce and that wild derriere tattoo.
VIBE: I think many people can join me in honestly saying they watched your “We Found Love” video 20+ times [laughs].
Melina: I did it too. I usually hate most of my work, probably at least more than half of it. When things are done I kind of want it to be done and never see it again, but this is one that I was really proud of and I’m extremely happy others are too. It’s the best feeling ever as an artist to be happy with your own work.
You’ve spoken about the video’s theme, but there’s one thing we need to speak about specifically—that ass tattoo. When Rihanna read the treatment was there any initial hesitation?
I think the more provocative it is the more she responds to it. She read the treatment and loved it. What I thought was funny was when we were on set and she said, ‘I didn’t realize until yesterday that I actually have to play this character. I read the scene and I’m like this is hot, but then it just hit me like oh shit I’m the one who has to play this out!’ I thought that was funny, but we shot that on the second day and they were already pretty comfortable with each other and I was like ‘So now he tattoos your butt.’ Obviously she likes tattoos. She had a warning that that was going to happen. It’s not like I sprung it on her [laughs].
I remember seeing The-Dream tweet that the video was good enough to flip into a short film. Were you guys thinking about doing something like that at all?
We’re thinking of doing an extended version possibly. I’m not sure yet. But I’m happy with how it is, too, so it’s not totally necessary.
We did a post recently asking a group of folks if Rihanna’s Beyonce’s inevitable successor. Beyonce had a movement that was about autonomy, financial independence and that opened the door for Rihanna’s movement with sexual liberation. Do you think that will most likely happen?
I wouldn’t say there’s a successor or not. To me they’re very different artists. Yes they both do pop music and both are Black women, but we can just like both of them. So many people are like ‘I’m on team this, I’m on team that.’ It’s like why can’t I just like music and like what these two women represent in different ways? Yes they’re both talented, but they’re different kinds of artists. Like Beyonce, well I wouldn’t go into everything that they do, but you know what Beyonce has to offer and I think Rihanna offers a bit something different. And yes they’re definitely some overlap in that they do some similar stuff, but they are totally different. At least for me they satisfy different parts of me creatively and I think that that’s what it is. Each of them has their own lane and that’s a lane they can fill if they want or leave vacant if they want, too.
How important is it that you guys highlight sexual liberation in visual projects?
I think that sexuality is something beautiful that should be embraced and shown off. It’s not something that we should run away from. It’s a part of being a woman and a part of being a man too. There’s nothing wrong with our bodies and it should teach us to love ourselves. And I think she does that really well and I love that about her. She doesn’t shy away from it. It’s also like American culture is so scared of that kind of thing where in some other cultures it’s not that big of a deal. It’s like this is who I am.
Right it’s also become very popular mindset amongst females of today. I feel like you’re going to soon come across an artist that’s going to ask you to give them a “Rihanna” video. How do you answer that?
No. [Laughs] I can’t do that because you’re not going to give me what Rihanna gives me. I haven’t been asked to do that ever thank God because then that’s copying someone, then it’s really a rip-off. Rihanna’s her own person. I don’t have anything to do with that. She is who she is. It’s just a good collaboration. I might be better with her than I’m with somebody else just because we get each other and we have similar tastes so then we can play off each other and so much about filmmaking is that collaborative nature. It’s like certain stylists might be really good with one person but when they work with other people their work doesn’t show that as well.
I’ve read folks who say you’re trouble for Rihanna because of the copy and paste accusations in the past. What do you say to shit like that?
It’s all what I grew up on. You can call it inspiration or you can just call it me. Those are the influences of my life and so they become a part of you and of course you’re channeling that into your work. I grew up on Kids. I grew up watching Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting and those kind of movies inspired me to become a filmmaker, so they’re part of my foundation. They’re part of who I am now.
The better the video the more the hate?
Exactly. No one can just like something.
Did the David Chapelle case hit the hardest?
I can’t really comment on that because of the legality of it.
Got you. If you go with that extended version, I think within the next 365 days you’re going to get a shitfull of movie offers.
I’m dying to. Coming from videos and pop stuff and dance I get a lot of those “Step up” and musical offers and I don’t want to do any of that. If you knew what I really watched –I watch a lot of foreign films; I watch gritty real stories that aren’t about the cinematography or how they look; it’s really about these characters, so doing this for me, was trying to show the type of work that I would like to do.
So what’s to come while we wait for your next video?
I’m working on a commercial now that I’m prepping for next month and maybe another video for next month and then we’ll see. I’m definitely trying to use this to spark some more stuff and hopefully get a film that I want to do. My goal was to find a film that I wanted to do at the end of the year, but that’s hard. I found the people I want to work with; it’s just finding the material. I’ve read so many scripts, but I haven’t found anything that I’ve loved yet. And doing a film you give so much of your life and it’s not video where you’re done in a month and you can move on so you better love it. You’re dedicating three years of your life or something.
Right, it has to feel organic.
I’m definitely not motivated by money. I definitely need it to represent me and who I am as an artist. Thank God I have other ways to support myself in the mean time. That I’m able to take my time that’s a blessing.
Doing your job must be really cathartic…
I’m really trying to tell a story and all the aspects of it, even down to the costumes and who’s this character and what does she look like and making it a real person. I think that’s what people are wanting now. I don’t know if economics, but you want a relatable artist.