BAME Actors in the Spotlight


Making moving image products is exciting as it combines the artistic and the technical. When starting out in any aspect of production, it is important to know how to analyse the use of technology and then how you might apply it on set. I teach a module which focusses on the production elements of camera, lighting and sound alongside the other elements of filmmaking. Although it is a practical module, it is important to watch and study content where the skills can be seen in action, with students then trying them out. I select clips and examples from BoB which demonstrate specific uses of technology and application in film and TV and then I explore with the students how certain effects may have been achieved.

One of the areas I focus on is how to think about lighting a diverse cast successfully – on both a technical level and an aesthetic one. Central to this is considering diversity on-screen and behind the scenes, and working to ensure that all students feel confident in lighting the cast (ie all cast members are seen) and in considering the meaning of their selected lighting choices.

BoB as Teaching tool

Although this is a practical module, it is important to watch and study content where the skills can be seen in action, with students then trying them out. I search BoB archive to select clips and examples which demonstrate specific uses of technology and their application in specific film and TV programmes; I store them in playlists which I then share with my students; together we explore how certain effects may have been achieved.

BoB in Practice

With diversity in mind it is useful to first look at an example where the cast have not always been successfully lit. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer, 1967) is a useful starting point for the difficulties arising from applying a ‘one size fits all’ policy to film lighting. I ask students to look at this clip [] and consider where the lighting is placed within the scene – remembering the D.I.S.C rule (Distance, Intensity, Source, Colour). Drawing a lighting plan is also helpful to consolidate where they think the lighting is placed and discussing why this might be. By looking carefully at the clip students are able to begin to see that there is additional lighting on Sidney Poitier’s character and that in doing this the lighting is unbalanced and unflattering (hots spots appearing).

Using this clip, I encourage students to think about reflectivity. Colours or tones seen as lighter simply reflect back more of the light spectrum which is hitting them; colours or tones seen as darker absorb more of the light spectrum - so rather than flooding a BAME actor with extra un-necessary light (as seen in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) we can think about increasing reflectivity by adding a reflective base to the make-up they wear on the shoot. Where we need to mattify white actors we need to add reflectivity to BAME actors. The takeaway from this clip is that to successfully light a BAME actor is not to simply add more light to them on set. I ask students to consider the whole film too and to analyse the frequency of under and over lighting.

Next, we watch a clip from I May Destroy You (Michaela Coel, 2020) [].

We then discuss what works within it in terms of the lighting, from D.I.S.C to the effect of the two actors having a reflective element within their make-up. Before watching a second time, I introduce the idea of an actor also finding their light in a scene, encouraging consideration of where each actor positions their face in the scene to ensure light is striking them correctly. Again, we can confirm understanding of the placement of the actor and the lights by creating a lighting and camera plan for the sequence – thinking about a 1, 2 and 3 camera set-ups for the scene.

We can also consider the placement of actors within a scene in relation to the source and direction of the lighting motivated by a scene. Where there are diverse cast members in a scene this is important and thought must go into the positioning within the setting. Using another clip from I May Destroy You [] we consider the way in which the actors are placed in relation to the light source of the window. Watching the clip through, students can consider who the focus of the scene is and how the positioning of the characters underlines this as well as ensuring all of the actors are correctly lit.

We use a scene from Luther to put all of these elements into a final analysis. In this occasion, students in small teams use the transcript to storyboard a sequence, paying particular attention to the ideas of lighting we have touched upon, as well as camera placement and the meaning of the narrative in connection to them. Then I play the clip [] and the teams can consider how closely their ideas of the scene are to the final realisation.

To complete the session, I ask students to use BoB to locate a sequence, preferably with a diverse cast, which they think works really well and has aspects of style within it which they wish to recreate and learn from. Students can analyse the sequence, create a plan for filming, and share the clip link to their online work area for the module. In subsequent sessions, students recreate the scene in their small groups and share the experience with their peers in other groups. Where theory meets practice in the creative arts it is always really important to be able to show what has been done in industry and how cast and crew address issues such as lighting; having a resource such as BoB means students can share and access inspiring practice.

By learning to consider the particularities of lighting a diverse cast, students can begin to look for their own way of dealing with them in their own productions.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner - Clip start 29:18 – Clip end 32:36

I May Destroy You Clip start 09:14 – Clip end 11:37

I May Destroy You Clip start 25:48 - Clip end 27:13

Luther - Clip start 26:16 – Clip end 28:12