- LOS ANGELES
The third time proved to be the charm--and historic--for director Melina Matsoukas who won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials on Saturday evening (4/10) during a virtual ceremony. On the strength of her stirring “You Love Life” for Apple’s Beats by Dr. Dre from agency Translation, Matsoukas--whose commercialmaking home is PRETTYBIRD--became the first woman and first person of color to win the Guild’s spot honor.
Matsoukas’ first career DGA win came for her first commercial nomination. But it was her third overall Guild nod--the first occurring in 2018 for an episode of the TV comedy series Master of None, and the second in 2020 for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film for Queen & Slim.
Matsoukas topped this year’s field of commercial nominees which also consisted of: Steve Ayson of MJZ; Nisha Ganatra of Chelsea Pictures; Niclas Larsson of MJZ; and Taika Waititi of Hungry Man.
Matsoukas powerful “You Love Me” short honors and celebrates Black culture, includes Black stars in sports and entertainment, and shows us how while mainstream society embraces Black culture and celebs, it fails to embrace Black individuals. The short opens with the familiar “You love me, you love me not” refrain, underscoring the mixed message that is a part of systemic racism.
“You love Black culture. But do you love me?” musical artist Tobe Nwigwe narrates. “You love how I sound: My voice, these beats, this flow. Not me though, right?”
He continues, “You love how I look: My hair, this skin. But me? Nah. We don’t get to exist. We’re forced to survive. We still fight. We still play while the world burns, on fields that ain’t even level.”
Matsoukas’ piece ultimately asks us to look inside ourselves so that perennial injustice can finally be addressed and changed.
In her DGA acceptance remarks, Matsoukas thanked her support ensemble at PRETTYBIRD, including president Ali Brown, as well as first assistant director Paul Norman and second assistant director Don Johnson. Matsoukas also expressed her gratitude for the “freedom to create and make political art” and specifically for the Beats by Dr. Dre brand affording her the opportunity to convey the joy of Black culture in “You Love Me.”
Earlier in the week, during the DGA’s Meet the Commercial Nominees session held virtually, Matsoukas also acknowledged the brilliant contributions of her collaborator and friend, Lena Waithe, who wrote “You Love Me,” which is graced by the music of Solange Knowles.
Breaking new ground
Matsoukas and Ganatra, two women of color, made history in that this marked the first time that two female solo directors were nominated for the DGA commercials honor in the same year.
Matsoukas and Ganatra join a select field of women directors to be nominated in the commercials category--the first being Amy Hill as half of the directorial duo Reiss/Hill in 1999; followed by Katrina Mercadante as half of the team known as The Mercadantes in 2015. That same year, Lauren Greenfield also received a nomination, making her the first individual female helmer to earn that distinction in the commercials competition. Greenfield, however, was no stranger to the nominees’ circle, having broken through for the feature documentary The Queen of Versailles back in 2013.
In 2018, Alma Har’el became the second solo woman director to be nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials since this category was established in 1980. Fast forward to this year, and two more solo women directors have made the spotmaking cut in one fell swoop.
Har’el of course made a major breakthrough last year when she won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film for Honey Boy. Har’el has helped to open up opportunities for women in film, including commercials and branded content. In 2016, she founded Free The Bid as a response to her own experience of the ad industry’s hiring inequalities. The Free The Bid pledge prompted brands and their agencies to include at least one woman among the three directors bidding for every commercial job. These commitments--furthered by a Free The Bid database of talent that the industry could tap into--led to measurable increases in the number of women creators considered and hired for major ads. Free The Bid has since continued to evolve, extending its reach as Free the Work which is designed to nurture more creators from underrepresented backgrounds, yielding new-to-the-world stories that bring diversity to creativity.