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Directors Bring Diverse TV Projects to Life

Variety logo Variety 6/14/2017 Mekeisha Madden Toby
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Two of this year’s most-talked about pieces of television are the “Thanksgiving” episode of “Master of None” on Netflix and the “Minty” installment of WGN’s “Underground.”

The directors who brought these episodes to life aren’t household names, at least not yet. But given their knack for bringing powerful and unforgettable projects to the small screen, it will only be a matter of time before that changes for Melina Matsoukas (“Thanksgiving”) and Anthony Hemingway (“Minty”).

Matsoukas is the mastermind behind Beyonce’s edgy “Formation” music video that garnered all kinds of buzz in 2016. The Grammy-winning director followed that up months later as an executive producer on Issa Rae’s “Insecure.” She also directed four out of eight of the HBO series’ episodes including the provocative season-one finale.

“The surreal part is all the wonderful artists I’ve been able to collaborate with and how in-line we are,” Matsoukas says. “The stories they’ve chosen to tell are so special and the fact that they chose me to help them portray them is incredible.”

Emmy-winning comedian and writer Aziz Ansari and his “Master of None” co-star and co-writer Lena Waithe are fans of Matsoukas, who directed a couple of second-season episodes with “Thanksgiving” quickly turning into a pinnacle series achievement.

The semi-autobiographical installment follows Waithe’s character Denise as she embraces being a lesbian during multiple Thanksgiving dinners with her family through the years.

“It’s such an important story to tell and one that we haven’t seen before on television,” Matsoukas says. “I knew I had to be a part of this and like ‘Insecure,’ ‘Master of None’ is an authentic story told from the show’s creator. I’m always attracted to real stories that diversify who we are as a people.”

Diversifying the landscape is also paramount for Hemingway, an executive producer and director on “Underground.” Last year, he directed several installments of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” a gig that helped earn him an Emmy.

Hemingway directed half of the second season’s 10 episodes and “Minty,” which featured Harriet Tubman (venerable actress Aisha Hinds) giving an abolitionist lecture, and is undoubtedly the show’s strongest contender. If the series finds a new network in the wake of WGN’s cancelation, Hemingway is certain creators-writers Misha Green and Joe Pokaski will take even more risks.

“We really found the stride to elevate the story in season two and that was exciting,” Hemingway says. “The ability to be huge and be bold meant everything. We fearlessly broke format for episode six [“Minty”] and as a filmmaker, this is what I love to do.”

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