It's easy to get frustrated about the state of female directing in film and television. The latest numbers from the Directors Guild of America, out this week, report that women directed just 15 percent of television episodes in the 2011-2012 season. The amount of work white women did stayed static, and the number of episodes women of color got to direct went up but the jobs for men of color shrank.
A ray of hope: Melina Matsoukas music videos. Just as many of the young male directors working in film and television today built their reputations in music videos, two new clips out this week from director Matsoukas give me some optimism that more women can use this form to develop the kind of unique visual style that will get the TV and movie honchos' attention.
Born in 1981, Matsoukas, who is Jamaican, Cuban, Jewish and Greek, has built a career on collaborations with female artists like Beyonce, Lady Gaga (whose debut, "Just Dance," was a Matsoukas production), and Rihanna. Her videos often combine a certain girliness and wild power. In the video for Rihanna's "We Found Love," widely believed to be about Chris Brown, Matsoukas painted a failing affair in candy colors, and she turned Beyonce into B.B. Homemaker, a period desperate housewife to rival Betty Draper, in “Why Don't You Love Me."
Out this week, Solange Knowles' "Losing You" takes Beyonce's younger sister to South Africa:
I love this confident, lovely video—short film, really—because isn't afraid to take its focus off its star, celebrating the creativity and style of the Le Sape Society, a Congolese fashion movement, whose members pose like models in South African streets.
By contrast, Matsoukas' focus is squarely on her main subject in Christina Aguilera's girl-on-the-prowl video for "Your Body":
Aguilera blows up a conquest with pink explosives, chomps pink toothpicks in a bar, leaves another man exhausted (or dead?) and covered in blue neon paint in a bathroom stall, retires to chomp gum in a tanning bed, and ends her binge watching I Love Lucy. If Lucille Ball was a woman who could be dizzy and impossible while still being totally sexy and charming, "Your Body" suggests that cute can be lethal, too. (Fear for the guy who takes a fondness for cereal and cartoons as proof of a gal's essential harmlessness.)
These two videos show off what Matsoukas can do in five minutes or less, in a medium where powerful female artists, unlike Hollywood executives, are keenly interested in speaking to women's fantasies. It would be nice to see her follow in the footsteps of David Fincher, who went from Madonna music videos to bloody, cerebral thrillers, or Marc Webb, who's directed Weezer and Green Day and is now working on his second Spider-Man movie. If would be awesome to see just what Matsoukas can do given more than three-minute increments at a time.