Melina Matsoukas, the award-winning filmmaker who created magic with Queen Bey, talks about the drowning car scene and more aspects of the iconic video.
It’s been over a year since Beyoncé‘s iconic “Formation” video dropped, and we’re just now getting the details on how it came together.
Filmmaker, Melina Matsoukas spoke with The New Yorker about the undertaking that she had two days to film, in between Beyonce’s Super Bowl rehearsals. The pair, who have known each other for over 10 years, put their heads together to create one of the most remarkable videos of our time, which touches upon police brutality, black love, resilience and gender roles.
And while the entire interview is fantastic, here are a few times Matsoukas spilled the tea, or um, lemonade:
Video director, "Formation"; executive producer and director, Insecure
First step: "In college I interned at a production company and spent a lot of time on sets. I love music videos and felt I could be experimental and hone my craft in that genre, so I started there."
Expansion: "Before Insecure, I hadn't found a narrative story I wanted to tell. When I read the pilot script, I thought, Wow. This is my life on the page. I knew I could visualize that voice."
Winning: "Knowing that people relate to the show gives me so much joy."
Beyonce made it clear what the inspiration behind “Lemonade” was:
“She wanted to show the historical impact of slavery on Black love, and what it has done to the Black family,” Matsoukas said about her initial conversation with Bey. “And Black men and women—how we’re almost socialized not to be together.”
Matsoukas drew inspiration from Black women artists:
Treating the video like a “thesis,” Matsoukas drew inspiration from Maya Angelou, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison and the Daughters of the Dust film.
How that famous drowning car scene came together:
“I wanted it to be a police car to show that they hadn’t really shown up for us. And that we were still here on top, and that she was one with the people who had suffered.”
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Matsoukas shot the scene on a Los Angeles soundstage, with an artificial lake backed by a blue screen made to look like New Orleans. A crane on a barge suspended a camera overhead while a lift lowered the police car, and Beyoncé, into the water. Matsoukas operated another camera from a speedboat.
“Everyone was scared, because the water was cold,” she said. “And Miss Tina”—Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles—“is calling me, like, ‘You’re going to give her pneumonia, and she has to perform at the Super Bowl.’ ”
Beyoncé, who was wearing a wetsuit under her clothes, didn’t complain.
Beyoncé really trusts Matsoukas:
“I feel safe working with her and expressing or revealing things about myself that I wouldn’t with any other director, because we have a genuine friendship and I trust her artistry,” Bey told the publication.
There’s symbolism behind the boy-police stand-off scene:
The article reveals that boy was supposed to dance shirtless, but he had arrived at the set in a black hoodie. Matsoukas told him to keep it on. When Beyoncé saw the footage, she questioned the change. “I was, like, ‘Please let me keep it,’ ” Matsoukas told me. Beyoncé acquiesced.
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