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It’s a beautiful thing when life comes full circle. Issa Rae started her “A Sip With Issa Rae” in October of 2016. In her first episode, she sat down with director Melina Matsoukas in Inglewood, California. Flash forward to 2019 and she once again sat down with Matsoukas — only this time, it was on the stage at REVOLT Summit in L.A. It’s been a busy three years and the two had a lot to catch up on.
For this edition, Rae was excited to have Diddy’s conference come to her city. She brought out Matsoukas, who’s the celebrated director of videos for the likes Beyonce, Rihanna, and Ne-Yo to name a few, and discussed her transition into directing for TV and film. The content creator’s portfolio includes writer and producer credits for “Master of None” and “Insecure.” During the chat, one of the main topics was Matsoukas’ feature film debut, Queen & Slim, written by Emmy award-winning Lena Waithe.
”To sisterhood” was the toast that got the convo started. Rae held up her shot of Ciroc, while Matsoukas sipped Prosecco. Being in front of the camera was a bit of an adjustment for the director to make, but she held her own. Of course, there were plenty of jokes and lots of witty banter between the two.
”You can’t create change unless you do something provocative.” These were words taken from an interview Matsoukas did earlier in her career, which Rae quoted to open up the interview.
“Have you always been an instigator?” was Rae’s first question. The crowd couldn’t help but laugh at the friendly pettiness and sarcasm throughout the verbal exchange.
”Yes!” replied Matsoukas. The idea of provocative visuals has defined her style. Who could forget Beyonce sitting on top of a police car submerged in water? This time, Rae was asking because of the opening scenes in Queen & Slim, where a black couple kills a cop in self-defense (no-spoiler, that’s the whole idea behind the movie).
The director loves making profound imagery, it’s her artistic expression as a director. It was a long process and didn’t happen overnight. Her advice to young creatives wanting to be a filmmaker was to “learn your craft.” Her path took her to film school, but she emphasized creating content as a way to get an education through trial and error, citing Rae’s emergence from a successful YouTube series into a highly successful show on HBO, as an example.
Midway through the conversation, Ciroc provided a bottle of its new white grape flavor for the two speakers. Jokingly, Rae insisted on black raspberry (because of racism) and drinks were poured.
In respect to being a black woman in Hollywood, Matsoukas has always approached her work selectively. She insists on being her authentic, unapologetic self regardless of who she is in a room with. White executives get the same version of her that was sipping Ciroc and champagne across from her longtime friend and collaborator. She pointed out that staffing productions with black crew members may require more effort, but it is ultimately worth it.
For Queen & Slim, Matsoukas took her ability to conceptualize ideas from her experience making music videos and flipped it into interpreting Waithe’s brilliant script.
Queen is a character who defends inmates on death row in Cleveland, Ohio. “I had shot in Cleveland. I shot this Nike commercial there years before. When I got this script... I knew we had to start there,” she said.
She shared the story of scouting a neighborhood on Cleveland’s St. Clair Street and how black people were being pulled over in droves. One particular white Honda with black rims stood out as the driver got pulled over. In her mind, she had found the look of Slim. The majority of the film was recorded in New Orleans, but her creative decision to go on location provided key character development for her directorial debut.
As the interview was winding down, Rae had to take an emergency bathroom break. That’s the downside of having vodka for breakfast. Who other than Diddy himself stepped out to take over while the “Insecure” star handled her business. When she returned, they took some questions from the crowd.
One audience member, in particular, stood out. Luna Loxx decided to shoot her shot at getting signed to Rae’s newly minted Raedio record label and treated all in attendance to an acapella performance that had heads turning.
Other questions were more focused on how to learn from mistakes and deal with the pressures of success. Despite all of her accomplishments, Rae has managed to stay humble and admit that there are still insecurities to work through on her journey. From the looks of it, she has a stellar support system that includes the brilliant mind of Melina Matsoukas. Queen & Slim hits theaters this Thanksgiving weekend and Rae’s next film, The Photograph, arrives on Valentine’s Day 2020.