Friends Who Came Up Together

Interviews by Sandra E. Garcia

Melina Matsoukas: I’m from New York, but I moved out to Los Angeles 15 years ago, and I didn’t really have a foundation. Since then, my friends and I have grown together as people, as artists, as found family. I look to this group for guidance — or just an ear when I want to vent my rage. Even though we’re peers, we mentor each other as we try to widen the path for the next generation in Hollywood. We all had to navigate through a system that wasn’t really built for us.

The best example is how we created “Queen and Slim” (2019). Lena wrote that script and brought it to me to direct, and I fell in love with it. I knew it would be my first film. We asked Daniel to be in it, and then we had this trifecta of power; you really see our stories onscreen, undiluted by other voices.

transcript

The Making of a Found Family

Melina Matsoukas, Shiona Turini, Lena Waithe, Daniel Kaluuya and other creative forces have formed a close-knit collective.

[MUSIC PLAYING] Oh, how did I come to find my found family? Let’s see. Well, my man and I went to high school together. And I snatched him up. No — [CHUCKLE] We went to school together in Hackensack, New Jersey. And he was my first love. And we grew up together, essentially. You know, that’s my foundation. The collective is actually just family for me. Creating community amongst a group of people who have like minds. And that’s exactly what we are, as far as the collective. And Shiona Turini, I started noticing her work and how amazing she was. And we sat next to each other at another friend’s fashion show. And we actually didn’t speak to each other, even though we followed each other on social media. When I was an editor, I would always see this Black girl walking around in all the fashions. I think the first thing I saw her in was, like, a full Preen look and I was like, “Who is that?” And then we started to be in the same circles. And I think we went on a group — I remember — vacation in the desert, in Joshua Tree. And we naturally, kind of, just connected, and she became my sister very quickly. And then she realized that I was a director. And we decided to start working together. I remember Melina called me one day, and she said, “I’m about to change your life.” And she is the most dramatic person, but she was actually correct. She had suggested me to be the costume designer for “Insecure,” which led to be the costume designer for “Queen & Slim,” which was written by Lena Waithe. I met Melina way back when at an HBO after-party, and then we really got to connect when she came to direct an episode of “Master of None.” “Ma, I’m gay.” And we just really bonded during that experience, and that’s when I knew. And I think she knew too that we would be friends. But I knew that we would have a very important work relationship as well as friendship. I think I could tell that immediately. And Daniel, I met at an early screening of “Get Out.” “Oh. No it’s, cool. I was just confused.” “Well, I can assure you, there was no funny business.” We spoke. I said how amazing I thought she was and then, we met up personally. Around the same time, I actually got to know Cynthia more because we did “Widows.” And she talked about “Queen & Slim,” Lena talked about “Queen & Slim,” then I met Melina, then I met Chip, then I met Alisa, then Shiona. Shiona from “Queen & Slim.” It was just organic. And then ultimately, he was in “Queen & Slim,” where we just became closer. I think work — When you work on something with a person, you just naturally become really tight. I think the first person I met was Daniel. I’ve known Daniel for a little bit now. We’re both from London, and we’re both on the acting scene there. And we connected. I can’t remember why we connected. I watched “The Color Purple” at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and I thought she was incredible. I just, sort of, saw someone who would understand me, and I understand him. And Chef Alisa, I really started going to her restaurant years ago. I really just loved — I love — I’ve always loved a Black-owned anything. And I remember visiting her restaurant for the first time, and I didn’t leave all day. We went for breakfast, and I think we left at dinner. And she sat with us, and she fed us. I am the non-G.M.O. fry oil that holds all of us together. I mean, I like to say that I’m not an activist, I’m an actionist, meaning my actions create community. I don’t feel like we can exist in our industry without the support of each other. When you’re approaching something with a strong sense of community, there’s no obstacle that’s too big, you know, because you have your people with you. I’ve never been in a meeting with Melina where she has not suggested, or promoted or championed another person of color behind closed doors. It has been such an example for me to make sure to bring other people with me. Shiona, who’s my stylist, has said something. I’ve never even told her that I even noted this in this kind of way. And we had — we had a couple looks that we was looking for or looking through for press and X, Y, Z. And then I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to do this or we can’t do this.” And she just said, “We can always outdo ourselves.” And that just always carried up. I mean it’s like, “Don’t sweat it.” I think I’m a person that really cares about my craft, and I try to encourage other people to care about their craft. I think that’s really what this group represents is people who really care about being great at what they do. Not necessarily being known for what they do. And checking in, celebrating everyone’s wins, and holding each other through the tough times. Do you understand? A lot of testing of yourself and testing of your character. So that’s the importance of community is consistently surrounding yourself with people that see the world how you see it, and see what is here. When I was building the restaurant, nobody took me serious. Because, you know, I would go to these supply shops and do all the groundwork. And they’re saying, “So when’s your partner showing up?” Or, “Where’s your dad?” Or, you know what I mean? I feel like when I started out in fashion, especially in editorial, it was a very isolating experience. If I spoke up, if I talked about the injustice that I felt, it was always — I was like the angry Black woman. It just wasn’t a space that I felt like I was accepted or celebrated. Right now I get to work in spaces where I’m uplifted. I hope the next generation of Black creatives can do whatever they want to do and not feel like they’re always being judged, whether by a mainstream audience or their own people. You know, I think we sometimes can put handcuffs on ourselves when we’re creating, because we don’t want to piss off our folk. I think some of the best art is the kind that makes you uncomfortable, and it makes you squirm a little bit. And I think that’s kind of art we’re trying to make. Inclusion. Having our— Creating our own space. Motivating and inspiring the next generation to become entrepreneurs, become owners of their work and their craft. The freedom to be themselves. The freedom to speak from their spirit and not constantly be in conversation with the powers that be. And I hope that future generations learn that it’s O.K. to make space and create with one another and, that by doing it with one another, you don’t lose. You win. I hope to push the industry, you know? I hope that we can move beyond just having representation of us and really delve into challenging stories that are complex, that are dramatic, that are comedic. I hope that because of my struggle and my fight, it’s easier for the next generation. And I also hope that they find community in each other and are rooting for each other. Genuinely, you know? And aren’t crabs in a barrel trying to pull each other down, because there’s – there’s more room for us now. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Shiona’s probably the one I speak to most because she’s a recent transplant from the East Coast, and I’ve been wanting to give her the support that I know she needs. One of the most vital things in life is having that sense of community, where you feel both seen and empowered, and yet where you can also be vulnerable. I like to host dinner parties at my house where we end up dancing, smoking, drinking and having a good time. Obviously, we couldn’t do that this year, but in August, we brought all our cars to the small parking lot attached to Chef Alisa’s restaurant, My 2 Cents L.A. in Mid-City. We blasted music and she cooked for us and we were outside, finally dancing. It was such a great relief, really spending time with each other.

Shiona Turini: I moved from Bermuda to America to work in fashion by myself in 2003. I would see Melina out and about, and I admired her style from afar. She was always pulling a look, and I had this big fashion crush on her. In 2014, we ended up on a group camping trip, and that’s when we solidified our friendship.

She asked me to be the costume designer for “Queen and Slim” and, through that, I met Daniel. Something just clicked between us: I’m so protective of him and he’s taught me so much about the world and the industry. During the quarantine, he and I were our own little pod, the good-looking pod. He would stand outside my window and yell up — that little moment of feeling like I was at home with my friend was so special. These are the people who champion and uplift me, but also check me when I need to be checked.

At top, from left: WILLIAM HAZEL wears a Burberry coat, $2,450, overalls, $5,500, and hoodie, $1,320, us.burberry.com; and Berluti shoes, $1,550, berluti.com. SHIONA TURINI wears a Schiaparelli jacket and pants, price on request, 011-33-1-76-21-62-59; Hermès top, $1,100, hermes.com; Darius Jewels necklaces, $10,336 and $13,640, dariusjewels.com; and her own ring and earrings. MELINA MATSOUKAS wears a Prada sweatshirt, $2,410, skirt, $3,250, and shoes, price on request, prada.com; Khiry earrings, $625, khiry.com; and her own ring and anklet. ALISA REYNOLDS wears an Hermès coat, $10,800; Phlemuns shirt, $275, phlemuns.com; Eileen Fisher pants, $168, nordstrom.com; Jill Platner earrings, $275, and necklace, $8,500, jillplatner.com; and Ugg x Molly Goddard shoes, $420, Dover Street Market New York, (646) 837-7750. CYNTHIA ERIVO wears a Loewe top, $3,800, and skirt, $2,100, loewe.com; Giuseppe Zanotti shoes, $795, giuseppezanotti.com; and her own jewelry. DANIEL KALUUYA wears a Salvatore Ferragamo coat, $2,800, shirt, $430, and pants, $730, ferragamo.com; Berluti shoes, $2,520; and his own ring. LENA WAITHE wears a Kenzo jacket, $1,025, and pants, $760; John Elliott T-shirt, $98, nordstrom.com; and her own hat, jewelry and shoes.

On the cover, from left: DANIEL KALUUYA wears a Salvatore Ferragamo coat, $2,800, shirt, $430, and pants, $730, ferragamo.com; Berluti shoes, $2,520, berluti.com; and his own jewelry. LENA WAITHE wears a Kenzo jacket, $1,025, and pants, $760, kenzo.com; John Elliott T-shirt,$98, nordstrom.com; and her own hat, jewelry and shoes. MELINA MATSOUKAS wears a Prada sweatshirt, $2,410, skirt, $3,250, and shoes, price on request; Khiry earrings, $625, khiry.com; and her own rings and anklet. WILLIAM HAZEL wears a Burberry hoodie, $1,320, and overalls, $5,500, us.burberry.com. ALISA REYNOLDS wears an Hermès coat, $10,800, hermes.com; Phlemuns shirt, $275, phlemuns.com; Eileen Fisher pants, $168, nordstrom.com; Jill Platner earrings, $275, and necklace, $8,500, jillplatner.com; and Ugg x Molly Goddard shoes, $420, Dover Street Market New York, (646) 837-7750. SHIONA TURINI wears a Schiaparelli jacket and pants, price on request; Hermès top, $1,100; Darius Jewels necklaces, $10,336 and $13,640, dariusjewels.com; and her own ring and earrings. CYNTHIA ERIVO wears a Loewe top, $3,800, and skirt, $2,100, loewe.com; Giuseppe Zanotti shoes, $795, giuseppezanotti.com; and her own jewelry.

Interviews have been edited and condensed. Production: Brachfeld. On-set hair: Malcolm Marquez at Opus Beauty. On-set makeup: Alana Wright at the Canvas Agency. Digital tech: Gokay. Photo assistant: Richard Rose. Tailor: Keeva Halferty. Stylist’s assistants: Jessica Harris, Hassan Ayub

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