How Howard University Produces Great Cinematographers

The Washington Post takes a look at what an HBCU with no formal program in the field is doing to produce black notables.

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Moikgantsi Kgama, Ava DuVernay, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Paul Garnes, Bradford Young (Ray Tamarra/Getty Images Entertainment)

How does a historically black college with no formal cinematography program churn out the likes of Sundance Award winner Bradford Young? Howard University professor Alonzo Crawford tells the Washington Post that his institution's formula for producing some of film's black notables has to do with a mix of theory and pragmatism in instruction.

I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere director Ava DuVernay says that Howard students get the message that African-American culture is political and that their work reflects an understanding that "the way that we see ourselves and the way we're seen start with the person behind the camera."

Whatever it is, it seems to be working.

The Sundance recognition reinforces what many in the industry have known for a few years now: Howard, best known for its law and medical schools, has become an incubator for people whose work with lighting, lenses, camera movement, film stocks and visual textures has profoundly influenced contemporary cinematic grammar ...

DuVernay, who enlisted Young to shoot her features "I Will Follow" and "Middle of Nowhere," notes that Howard-trained cinematographers emerge not just with practical knowledge of photochemistry and camera mechanics but an understanding that African American culture "is political, and what we do is important and the way that we see ourselves and the way we're seen start with the person behind the camera."

The fact that cinematographers are image-makers both in the cinematic and sociological sense has never been lost on the teachers or students at Howard, which formed its radio, television and film department in the early 1970s and began offering an MFA in film in 1983. Howard is the only historically black college with a graduate film program; the country's best-known film departments are at New York University, the University of Southern California, the American Film Institute and UCLA, where in the 1970s and 1980s a group of African American filmmakers formed the "L.A. Rebellion.

Read more at the Washington Post.

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