'We Stand Here to Honor Her Life': Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe Memorialized #AtatianaJefferson at Elle's Women in Hollywood Awards

Melina Matsoukas, left, and Lena Waithe attend ELLE’s 26th Annual Women In Hollywood Celebration on Oct. 14, 2019, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Photo: Emma McIntyre (Getty Images for ELLE)

Queen & Slim director Melina Matsoukas was somber as she accepted her award at Elle’s 2019 Women in Hollywood awards ceremony on Monday night. As she explained to the assembled guests, her mind was on Atatiana Jefferson, the 28-year-old killed in her own home on Saturday by police officer Aaron Dean in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I was up late last night trying to write my speech, trying to show my appreciation for the opportunities and the love and support I’ve been given,’ said Matsoukas, as reported by Elle. “Trying to use my breath and my voice to create change and inspire on this stage today, but all I could think of were those whose breath was taken from us. All I could think of were my sisters who are not here, who could no longer speak, love, or thrive solely because of their existence as black women.”

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“[Jefferson] was killed in her own bedroom, which is meant to be a safe haven for a person. She was murdered by someone meant to protect and to serve her. She was murdered because she was black,” Matsoukas continued.

“Today, we stand here to honor her life. To honor Sandra Bland; to honor all the black and brown bodies whose lives were taken by law enforcement; who could have easily been me or [fellow honorees] Lena [Waithe] or Jodie [Turner-Smith] or Indya [Moore, a presenter at the WIH Awards]. To shed light on this epidemic, as Lena appropriately calls it, ‘to give these lives justice and carry their legacy,’ because that is the reason we create art, to create change. We create art to create change, to illuminate and to disrupt.”

Following Matsoukas’ speech, Queen & Slim writer Waithe added her own message of tribute and resistance, telling the Women in Hollywood audience: “We must tell our stories—and not just to educate white audiences, but to speak directly to those who have been ignored, to those who have been silenced, to those who have been taken far too soon. When the hunter tells the story, the lion will always be conquered.”

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Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.