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Cinematographer Rachel Morrison Talks BLACK PANTHER and MUDBOUND

Rachel Morrison was already having an historic 2018 before she helped bring Wakanda to the screen as the cinematographer for the groundbreaking (and record-breaking) Black Panther. In January, she became the first woman to ever earn an Academy Award nomination for cinematography, earning such her work on Mudbound. But like all great artists, Morrison had to start somewhere, and long before she was shooting big Hollywood prestige movies she was working on reality shows.

“I’d say I worked on more documentaries,” Morrison pointed out when we spoke to her ahead of Black Panther‘s home release. Still, for someone who has achieved such massive critical and commercial success, it’s hard not to notice The Hills on her IMDb page. Her early work filming real subjects in real places helped make her the talented filmmaker she is today.

Reality TV and documentaries might seem worlds apart from MCU movies or historical dramas, but Morrison says the lessons they taught her still help her work today. “You learn how to film in natural light,” she said, “Even when you’re filming in a studio, you have an understanding of how to make things look authentic.” Of course, filming a movie like Mudbound, a moving period piece set in 1940s Mississippi, is itself about as far away from a special effects bonanza like Black Panther as you can get. “With a movie like Mudbound, you see the entire movie through the lens,” she said, “There’s very few VFX on that film, which I’m proud of.”

Mudbound has far more in common with another Ryan Coolger movie: 2013’s Fruitvale Station, which Morrison also shot. “He’s like family now,” Morrison said about Coogler. And like any close family members she knows him so well she feels like she can anticipate what he’s thinking, and what he’s looking for. That would certainly seem like a major advantage when filming a VFX heavy film like Black Panther, which was an entirely new challenge for her—in fact, Coogler seems like it may have been the main pull for her to join the Marvel world. I don’t want to say it would have been a definite no [without Coogler], but it wouldn’t have been such an obvious yes,” she added.

Marvel, who seems to do no wrong these days, can also brag they brought her on board before she became an Academy Award nominee, and an historic one at that. That might not be the world-shattering event you might expect though. “I don’t really feel like my life has changed much,” she said, noting that she thought it did mean she’d be in the proverbial Hollywood “big room,” only to find out it doesn’t quite work that way. And while she can probably do anything she likes now, it’s also not exactly the best time for the types of projects she’d loves to work on. “Studios aren’t doing those big sweeping dramas like Road to Perdition that were being made when I started out.”

Of course women also weren’t getting Oscar nominations for cinematography back then either, and she just changed that forever. “I wanted to show it could be done,” she said. She certainly has, and we’re all excited to see future cinematic worlds through her talented eye.

What is your favorite film Rachel Morrison has worked on? Tell us in the comments below.

Images: Netflix

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