Insecure Literally Shines The Perfect Light On Its Talent

Photo: Courtesy of Justina Mintz/HBO.
HBO's Insecure is an incredible show for a lot of reasons — I would put Natasha Rothwell at the top of that list. But Mic pointed out that Insecure also has a knack for incredible lighting. The outlet interviewed Ava Berkofsky, the director of photography for the show, about how Insecure lights dark skin. (Most of the characters on the show are Black.)
"The way I approach dark skin tone technically is all about the skin is reflective," Berkovsky says. She uses a "reflective base" on the actors' faces, then ensures that every actor's face has some textured lighting to actually reflect. However, Berkovsky stresses that lighting the face of a Black actor shouldn't be "different" — though in film school, she was taught specific techniques for lighting actors of color.
"There are all these general rules about lighting people of color, like throw green light or amber light at them. It's weird," Berkovsky said.
But for Berkovsky, it's not even about the tone of the light; it's about figuring out the best way to have the skin reflect light.
"Rather than pound someone's face with light, [I] have the light reflect off them,” she explained. “I always use a white or [canvas-like] muslin, so instead of adding more light, the skin can reflect it."
Mic also points out that Ava Duvernay has critiqued methods for lighting Black actors in the past.
"The standard is 'OK. A black woman is walking into a dark room. That's not gonna fly. Turn a light on.' Right?" she told Buzzfeed in 2013. "And we'll say, 'No. There's natural light coming through the window and how do we shoot that so it's just as beautiful as if all the lights are on?' Or more beautiful."
Actress Susan Wokoma, who appeared in Netflix's Chewing Gum, tweeted the article, adding that most cinematographers aren't good at lighting dark skin.
"Here's a piece about lighting dark skinned people like moi on screen. Spoiler - lots of you are shit at it," she wrote.
In another tweet, Wokoma pointed out that the article lists practical advice and film references, so there should be "no more excuses" from the film community.
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