Beyoncé makes surprise appearance at Denzel Washington’s AFI Life Achievement Award gala


As stars and entertainment world insiders gathered at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Thursday to honor actor Denzel Washington as he received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, they were surprised by another icon gracing their presence.

Beyoncé appeared on stage to present AFI’s Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal to Melina Matsoukas, who directed the Grammy-winning artist’s “Formation” video, the “Thanksgiving” episode of “Master of None” that featured Lena Waithe and several episodes of Issa Rae’s “Insecure.”

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“After over a decade of collaborating with Melina we’ve become family,” Beyoncé told the crowd. “In 2005 she managed to shoot five videos with me in three days, creating beautiful imagery with little to no budget. We’ve come a long ways since those days.”

After noting how Matsoukas has moved on from directing music videos for Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and many more to directing TV shows and the upcoming movie “Queen & Slim,” Beyoncé praised her work on “stories that are thought-provoking, dramatic, funny and real. She is holding up a mirror for people who look like you and me to see ourselves, saying, ‘You are beautiful and your stories matter.’”

She added: “As a woman of color, conformity is not her thing. She stays authentic to her roots and femininity in an industry dominated by men. Her drive, vision, taste level and storytelling is boldly unapologetic.”

Nobody seemed more surprised than the honoree herself.

When Matsoukas took the stage, she was clearly in shock, telling the crowd, “I texted her days ago and she didn’t get back to me.”

“My first real foray into directing was 10 years ago with my sister, Beyoncé,” Matsoukas said while accepting her award. “She truly inspires me. She taught me how to work, how to dream, how to achieve. And most importantly as an artist, how to take control of your own narrative. Without her, I’m not the same voice and I’m not the same creator.”


The Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal is given each year to an alumnus of the AFI Conservatory or the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women. Past winners include David Lynch, Patty Jenkins and Rachel Morrison.