Being Seen - Inclusivity in Lighting

Sharon Coleclough | April 2020

The history of film lighting in relation to cast focusses upon the ways in which white actors may be lit on a film set. Tales from the early days of cinema suggest that the limited representation of BAME actors in cinema has been because they do not “read” as well on camera as their white counterparts, offering a technical reasoning for excluding of BAME actors from Western cinema for the majority of the following decades. The proliferation of white crew and indeed overall cast members can mean that learning to light BAME actors tends to be overlooked or side-lined to a task which can be easily addressed by “specialist” lighting techniques. These are crude adjustments which might appear to speak to specific changes but tend to encompass only nods to the potential consideration of lighting anyone other than a white actor.
As we seek to extend the involvement and representation of BAME students and then graduates in film and television we need to carefully consider the ways in which we as production orientated lectures can assist all our students in lighting and filming BAME actors and more fully address the fact that BAME students still aren’t fully represented in education, in turn enabling them to be seen literally and figuratively on-screen.
As BAME actors begin to be more fully represented in mainstream media we can see that there are still deficits in the way those cast members are lit and so offered to the audience on-screen. Where we have BAME directors and directors of photography we can see a real change in the way that BAME actors are lit and so visually/narratively presented, with consideration of the small but meaningful adaptations that can be made to really be able to “see” BAME actors. Such knowledge needs to filter into the teaching and training of the next generation of filmmakers, white and BAME, so that everyone can be represented and have a place in the ongoing narrative.

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