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'Insecure' Cinematographer on the Importance of Showing Beauty of Dark Skin on Screen

UPDATED: Now in its third season, HBO’s “Insecure” became a critical hit not only because of its laugh-out-loud scenes and quotable moments, but for the nuanced and honest way the series portrayed the life and relationships of twentysomething black women, starring creator Issa Rae. That’s precisely why when approaching the visual aesthetics, the show’s cinematographer, Patrick Cady, thought it was important to convey the layered storytelling.

“The cinematography can show a little more depth than what’s happening in the scene and still serve what might be a punchline,” says Cady, who was brought in during Season 2. He credited “Insecure” DP Ava Berkofsky for establishing the look of the show.

With a predominantly black cast, Cady says it’s critical to challenge the outdated notion that dark skin must be shot one type of way.

“Hollywood made the mistake, often [thinking] that, ‘Oh no we can’t let black skin be dark, even though it is.’ There is a way to let everyone look like they look in the real world and be beautiful,” Cady says.

The first film he shot was Karyn Kusama’s acclaimed “Girlfight,” which featured Michelle Rodriguez and a predominantly Latino cast. Working with diverse actors keeps his work interesting and allows him to learn on the job, Cady says.

“The thing that I’m most excited about is telling stories about situations and people I’m not familiar with,” he adds. “If all the stories I ever help to tell are just my own, that would be pretty boring, pretty quick. It’s more exciting to me to help tell the story of someone I’m learning about, while I’m telling the story, too.”

Cady, who has worked on shows like “Cold Case” and “Suits,” originally wanted to be a director, until he realized he gravitated more toward techniques like lightning and shot design that were also integral to storytelling.

He cited an episode in Season 2 on which he served as director of photography, where Issa’s character of the same name attends a party and runs into Daniel, her old flame. Using a technique called short siding, Cady limited the frame so that even as Issa looks in Daniel’s direction while talking, the audience only sees her and thus feels her discomfort. But when Daniel is talking, he is framed normally to also include Issa, which reflects his ease and how he has less stake in the game.

In another scene that Cady highlights, the shallow depth of field visually pulls the actors from the background to emphasize the intense conversation the characters are having. He says the lanterns in the scene are softer, and therefore cast a more natural light on Molly’s (Yvonne Orji) face.

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