‘Black Panther’ cinematographer Rachel Morrison makes history

Rachel Morrison

Can we just take a moment, please, to celebrate Rachel Morrison?

This week, she became the first woman nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers for a feature film.

In the running for her stunning work on director Dee Rees’ 1940s-set Southern drama “Mudbound,” Morrison will compete against such legends as Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049”) and Hoyte van Hoytema (“Dunkirk”).

Many people are predicting she’ll be the first female cinematographer to get an Oscar nod when the nominations are announced on Jan. 23.

Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther.”

As if this wasn’t cause enough for excitement, Morrison also served as cinematographer on Marvel’s hugely anticipated “Black Panther” movie, which is currently Fandango’s top advanced ticket seller of all the Marvel films so far.

She previously worked with “Black Panther” writer-director Ryan Coogler on the critically acclaimed 2013 drama “Fruitvale Station,” which starred Michael B. Jordan. Jordan reteamed with Coogler to play villain Eric Killmonger in the Marvel comic book adaptation.

According to an interview with Collider, Morrison said she aimed to bring her talent for creating colorful contrasts to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has sometimes been criticized for its visual “flatness.”

After completing a master of fine arts in cinematography at the American Film Institute, Morrison cut her teeth on short films, reality series, documentaries, and commercials.

One of her early projects was the MTV series “The Hills,” but she’s since come to specialize in dramatic independent features, many of them focused on social issues.

“Fruitvale Station” retraced the final steps of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident shot to death by a police officer on a BART station platform in 2008.

Morrison has shot episodes of “Oprah’s Master Class” and documentaries on Lady Gaga and the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s journey through Los Angeles, but her filmography also includes the TV movie “Confirmation,” starring Kerry Washington as Anita Hill; 2014’s “Cake,” starring Jennifer Aniston; the coming-of-age story “Dope”; and intriguing cult/sci-fi drama “The Sound of My Voice” by “The OA” collaborators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij.

The cinematographer has already earned accolades for her portfolio, including the Kodak Vision Award for outstanding achievements in the field at the Crystal + Lucy Awards — Women in Film, as well as Emmy nominations for her work on the Netflix doc “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and Showtime’s “Riker’s High.”

In an interview with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Morrison discussed some of the challenges she’s faced as a woman in the industry.

“Quite frankly, you’re going to see a lot of your male peers skipping ahead,” she said.

“It’s like playing Chutes and Ladders or Cranium, and they roll the fast track while you’re taking the slower way around. … As a woman, you have to be prepared to prove yourself time and time again.”


On “Mudbound,” Morrison encountered other challenges, including a shoot that involved lots of rain and candlelight and was just under a month long.

She and director Rees strove to ensure the drama, which centers around two families — one black, one white — living on the same Mississippi farm in the aftermath of World War II, strikes a realistic balance between grit and golden-tinged nostalgia, according to an IndieWire interview.

Morrison referenced rural photographs by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to create an atmosphere that is slightly soft with a period feel, but steers clear of the desaturation so prevalent in modern period pieces.

The result is a film in which the landscape is a character unto itself, at times strikingly beautiful but never romanticized.

If you haven’t seen “Mudbound” yet, you might want to check it out. It’s available on Netflix.

We also have Morrison’s contribution to “Black Panther” to look forward to on Feb. 16.

The cinematographer has indicated she may be interested in helming films, so perhaps we’ll follow her career as one of Hollywood’s groundbreaking female directors very soon.

Photos: rachelmorrison.com; comicbookmovie.com.

One thought on “‘Black Panther’ cinematographer Rachel Morrison makes history

  1. Can’t wait to see how she helps bring Black Panther to life! Great to see a woman doing incredible work and actually being recognized for it in one of the fields most dominated by men.

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