Black America Again 5

About Bradford Young

Bradford Young is the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016), the cinematographer for Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, 2018), Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us (2019) and Selma (2014), and a three-time Sundance winner as the cinematographer of Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George (2013), David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)and Dee Rees’s Pariah (2011). Young has also provided cinematography for Untitled (Structures) (2012) in collaboration with installation artist Leslie Hewitt, and created multi-channel installations Bynum Cutler (2014) and REkONGIZE (2017). In 2016, Young directed two long-form music videos for Common’s 11th studio album— the award-winning “Black America Again” and “Letter to the Free,” which is featured in Ava DuVernay’s The 13th (2016).

Studying at Howard University under Haile Gerima, the acclaimed director of both experimental and militant films such as Bush Mama (1975), Ashes and Embers (1982), and Sankofa (1993), Young is a critical contemporary voice in a lineage of artists and filmmakers such as Ernest Dickerson, Arthur Jafa, and Malik Sayeed, who are similarly invested in producing if not a black aesthetics, at least what Young calls a “black intentionality,” i.e. an image-making practice that is always explicit about coming from, expressing, and leading back to blackness.

Similarly to many of the visual artists he claims as part of this lineage –not only those who were directly trained by Gerima but also those with whom Gerima worked and experimented with at UCLA such as Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, Ben Caldwell and Julie Dash among others—he too holds black music, and jazz in particular, as the pinnacle of black artistic achievement as well as a model of art-making that is at the same time a way of practicing new forms of sociality.

In May 2019, Netflix released the four-part series When They See Us based on the 1989 arrest and wrongful convictions of five young men Antron McCray, 15; Kevin Richardson, 14; Yusef Salaam, 15; Raymond Santana, 14; and Korey Wise, 16. Directed by DuVernay with Young as cinematographer, When They See Us is termed as an act of restorative and social justice by the public and those who have been part of the project. When They See Us was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Cinematography, Music Composition, Sound Editing, Writing, Directing, supporting actors/actress; with Jharrell Jerome winning Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series along with the film winning Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series. Other awards and nominations include: Camerimage 2019 nomination for Young’s cinematography, a Directors Guild of America award nomination, a GALECA nomination for TV Performance of the Year, an AFI nomination for TV Program of the Year, an American Cinema Editors nomination, Black Reel Awards for Television, the Freedom and Justice award from the 2019 Innocence project and three NAACP Image Awards. See updated list of awards here.

Young’s work seeks a visual aesthetics of black care. He is very conscious of working in a medium that has not been historically amicable to black subjects both in theory and in practice, and is committed to breaking this careless cycle. If as a cinematographer, what you see through the viewfinder is a stereotype, he has said, then change the lens.  Decolonizing the lens worked to restore the exonerated five’s dignity and create intimate moments of palpable empathy.

Consistently, his visual art of black care is an intentional articulation of values and concerns that express his sensibility and specific location in relation to filmmaking as an artform and an industry. Among them, there is the practice of strategically under-exposing black skin so that it can resonate with its own shine –a practice that builds on the legacy of studies in sensitometry began with Clark, Caldwell, Jafa and Dash, among others– or a distinct comfort with “playing in the dark” he learned from Roy DeCarava, one of the still photographers he admires the most.

Young’s artistry extends beyond the film theater and the streaming device to the gallery space as well. In addition to his short film Untitled (2019) commissioned for Somerset House’s Get Up, Stand Up Now exhibition celebrating 50 years of black creativity, Young’s four-channel instillation “Back and Song” (in collaboration with Elissa Blount Moorhead) debuted at the Philadelphia Contemporary in 2019 and is headed to the Baltimore Museum of Art in March of 2020. The project explores care in the black American experience with health and wellness as it confronts Western constraints. As Told To G/D Thyself by the Ummah Chroma

The Ummah Chroma (“community of color”), a filmmaking collaborative teaming Young with Terence Nance, Jenn Nkiru, Marc Thomas and Kamasi Washington, debuted As Told To G/D Thyself at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The film’s exploration of divinity through the aesthetics of blackness exemplifies a practice inspired by the jazz ensemble, channeling black musicality to collectively advance black cinematic language.

Bradford Young – The Visual Art of Black Care Interview from liquid blackness on Vimeo.

Selected Works


James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters: The Absence of Ruin (2018), dir. Jason Moran
When They See Us (TV Mini-Series, 4 Episodes) (2019), dir. Ava DuVernay
The New Normal (Short) (2019), dir. Spike Jonze
As Told To G/D Thyself (Short) (2019), dir. Ummah Chroma (Bradford Young, Terence Nance, & Jenn Nkiru)
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), dir. Ron Howard
To Be Free (2017, dir. Adepero Oduye (short film)
Where Is Kyra? (2017), dir. Andrew Dosunmu
Arrival (2016), dir. Denis Villeneuve
Selma (2014), dir. Ava DuVernay
A Most Violent Year (2014), dir. J.C. Chandor
Pawn Sacrifice (2014), dir. Edward Zwick
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), dir. David Lowery
Mother of George (2013), dir. Andrew Dosunmu
Middle of Nowhere (2012), dir. Ava DuVernay
Pariah (2011), dir. Dee Rees
Restless City (2011), dir. Andrew Dosunmu
White Lies, Black Sheep (2007), dir. James Spooner
[add short films]


As Told To G/D Thyself (Short) (as Ummah Chroma) (2019)
Untitled (commissioned by Somerset House – on Nipsy Hussel) (2019)
Black America Again (with Common) (2016)
Letter to the Free (with Common) (2016)


Back and Song (2019), with Elissa Blount Moorhead

Philadelphia Contemporary, October 5 – 27, 2019

Baltimore Museum of Art, March 1 – June 28, 2020

REkOGNIZE (2017), 3-channel video, Carnegie Museum of Art
Bynum Cutler (2014), 3-channel video, Creative Time
Untitled (Structures) (2012), with Leslie Hewitt, 2-channel video, Menil Collection


Somerset House, Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers, London, United Kingdom, June 12 – September 15, 2019

Selected Interviews

“A Most Vibrant Year for Cinematographer Bradford Young.” All Things Considered. March 1, 2015.

“Bradford Young.” EFTI School of Photo and Cinema.

“Bradford Young – In Conversation.” Array.

“Creative Process in Dialog: Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, and Bradford Young at Bard College,” February 4, 2020.

“Interview with Solo: A Star Wars Story Cinematographer Bradford Young.” Interview by ARRI Rental. May 24, 2018.

Borrelli, Christopher. “How ‘Solo’ Cinematographer Found Light in his Chicago Childhood.” Chicago Tribune. Baltimore. May, 2018.

DuVernay, Ava and Bradford Young. “Black Lives, Silver Screen: Ava DuVernay and Bradford Young in Conversation.” Aperture.

Fiske, Courtney. “Leslie Hewitt.” Art Forum. December 15, 2012.

Hewitt, Leslie. “Conversation on the Installation, The Menil Collection, Leslie Hewitt and Bradford Young.” The Menil Collection, January 25, 2013.

King, Jamilah. “Cinematographer Bradford Young on Lighting Dark Skin and the ‘Subversive’ Power of the Black Church.” Color Lines, October 10, 2014,

Mock, Brentin. “Bradford Young Trains His Lens on Pittsburgh’s Hill District.” City Lab. June 19, 2017.

Mumin, Nijla. “The Visual Aesthetic of ‘Pariah’ – An Interview with Cinematographer Bradford Young.” IndieWire. August 17, 2015.

Neyman, Yuri. “Exploring Visual Style with Bradford Young, ASC.” Global Cinematography Institute. January 28, 2016.

Nord, Liz. “’Arrival’: How DP Bradford Young Deconstructed Sci-Fi.” No Film School. November 14, 2016.

Salovaara, Sarah. “Bradford Young.” BOMB Magazine. October 23, 2014.

Sargent, Antwaun. “Decoding the Black Bodies and Black Spaces of the Hill District.” Storyboard, June 15, 2017.

Thompson, Patricia. “Bradford Young discusses the cinematography of Ava DuVernay’s Selma and J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.” American Cinematographer 96(2) (February 2015),

White, Michelle. “Untitled (Structures).” Menil Collection.

Witmer, Jon D. “American Mythology.” American Cinematographer. September 2013.

Yamato, Jen. “‘Selma’s Bradford Young On The Politics Of Lensing Black Films.” Deadline Hollywood, December 21, 2014.

Young, Bradford and Common. “Black America Again, Conversation With Bradford Young and Common.” Carnegie Museum of Art, June 16, 2017.



O’Falt, Chris. “Influencers: Cinematographer Bradford Young Embraces the Dark Side of Digital.” IndieWire, December 3, 2019.

Tillet, Salamishah. “When They See Us’ Transforms Its Victims Into Heroes.” The New York Times, May 30, 2019. May 30,2019.


Selected News

Leung, Gabrielle “The Ummah Chroma to Launch Spiritual & Meditative Installation at Het Nieuwe Instituut.” Hypebeast, January, 16. 2020.

Lee, Vivien. “Two Leading Filmmakers Team Up on an Experimental Work About African American Healing.” Observer, October 23, 2019.

Riefe, Jordan. “’Arrival’ Cinematographer Bradford Young Dives Into Fine Arts With ‘Back and Song.’” The Hollywood Reporter, October 3, 2019.

Crow, Kelly. “Cinematographer Bradford Young Creates a ‘Healing’ Work of Art.” The Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2019.

Luers, Erik. “Ava DuVernay and Bradford Young Return with Four-Part Netflix Series ‘When They See Us.’” No Film School, March 1, 2019.

Marc, Christopher. “Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Cinematographer Bradford Young Expected To Shoot ‘Space Jam 2.’” April 10, 2019

McCabe, Bret. “Oscar-nominated cinematographer visits Johns Hopkins film program.” HUB, March 20, 2019.




Haile Gerima
Bradford Young describes Haile Gerima as not only a critical and influential figure in the formation of his own style and ethos, but as central to the last forty years of black film aesthetics, having trained some of Spike Lee’s seminal cinematographers, such Ernest Dickerson and Malik Hassan Sayeed, experimental filmmaker Arthur Jafa, and contemporary black filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay and Andrew Dosnumu. As one of the key filmmakers in the group of UCLA graduates that was later described as the L.A. Rebellion, Gerima understood his filmmaking as part of a process of mental decolonization; in other words, filmmaking form and style are, in his view, always tools towards the pursuit of freer forms of seeing and being in the world. Having come to study in the US from Ethiopia, brought an African diasporic sensibility to bear on Gerima’s political investments and visual language in producing foundational works such as Bush Mama, Ashes and Embers, and Sankofa.

Beginning in 1975, Haile Gerima became a professor in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Film at Howard University, the only historically black college with a graduate film program. Gerima brought together the work of African diaspora filmmakers, such as Ousmane Sembene, and his fellow L.A. Rebellion filmmakers Larry Clark, Charles Burnett, and Ben Caldwell, making a claim to a black filmic tradition and one in tension if not explicitly at odds with the mainstream film industry. As Gerima says in an interview with the Washington Post, which reflects on the legacy of his pedagogy, “We try to prepare them and keep talking about the disconnects, especially in motion pictures and on top of that being African Americans, so that when they go out into the world, at least they won’t shortchange themselves in the way they should perform the tasks they happen to be in.”

Gerima cultivated and trained a group of cinematographers and directors that have defined black film aesthetics since the 1980s. Dickerson’s floating, flowing camera became a hallmkark of Spike Lee’s visual style since their early collaboration in She’s Gotta Have It (1986) through Malcolm X (1992). Sayeed is responsible for the distinctive cinematography of Clockers (1995), Girl 6 (1996), and He Got Game (1998). And Arthur Jafa, who worked with Spike Lee on Crooklyn (1994) and Julie Dash on Daughters of the Dust (1991) to create an early attempt at his concept of “black visual intonation,” continued the lineage of the L.A. Rebellion in producing new aesthetic forms that would more adequately respond to the exigencies and specificities of black lives.

Haile Gerima Filmography
Teza (2008)
Adwa (1999)
Imperfect Journey (1994)
Sankofa (1993)
After Winter: Sterling Brown (1985)
Ashes and Embers (1982)
Wilmington 10 — U.S.A. 10,000 (1979)
Bush Mama (1979)
Harvest: 3,000 (1976)
Child of Resistance (1973), short film
Hour Glass (1971), short film

For more on Haile Gerima, see the Winter 2013 Spring issue of Black Camera, volume 4, no. 2, Close-up: TEZA

In particular Greg Thomas, “Close-Up: On Teza, Cinema, and American Empire: An Interview with Haile Gerima,” where Gerima states:

One of the most amazing things about Charlie Burnett is how much he would resurrect inner-city kids’ talent through his movies. That’s like Paulo Freire innovation! The sister who did the sound for Bush Mama, Beneva Jackson, he trained her! She was fourteen or fifteen years old! The talent of Black people, the actors, et cetera, who gave us so much energy, with- out them our films wouldn’t exist. The cinematographer for Bush Mama, Roderick Young—America was not ready to take him. He shot Passing Through with Larry Clark, too. Charlie shot some of Bush Mama, but the majority is Roderick Young, whom they disillusioned because in Hollywood he had no opportunity. He was a brilliant cinematographer, an energetic and firebrand cinematographer. When you talk about Ernie Dickerson, A. J. [Arthur Jafa], Malik [Hassan Sayeed], and Spike Lee, I traced them all back to Roderick Young because they saw all of these early Black films he shot. (102)

See also:

Belachew, T. “Close-Up: The Genius of an African Storyteller: A Selectively Annotated Bibliography of Work on and by Haile Gerima.” Black Camera, vol. 4 no. 2, 2013, pp. 144-162.

Field, Allyson Nadia, Jan-Christopher Horak, and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart. La Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema. Univ of California Press, 2015.


Malik Hassan Sayeed
Lemonade (2016), dir. Beyonce Knowles Carter, Kahili Joseph, Todd Tourso
The Reflektor Tapes (2015), dir. Kahlil Jospeh
Dreams are Colder than Death (2014), dir. Arthur Jafa
Belly (1998), dir. Hype Williams
He Got Game (1998), dir. Spike Lee
Girl 6 (1996), dir. Spike Lee
Clockers (1995), dir. Spike Lee
See also here

Ernest Dickerson
Double Play (2017)
The Wire (2003-2008), six episodes
Our America (2000)
Juice (1992)
Malcolm X (1992), dir. Spike Lee
Jungle Fever (1991), dir. Spike Lee
Mo’ Better Blues (1990), dir. Spike Lee
Do the Right Thing (1989), dir. Spike Lee
School Daze (1988), dir. Spike Lee
She’s Gotta Have It (1986), dir. Spike Lee

Arthur Jafa

Other aesthetic influences frequently mentioned:

Roy DeCarava

Miller, Ivor. “” If It Hasn’t Been One of Color”: An Interview with Roy Decarava.” Callaloo 13, no. 4 (1990): 847-57.
Rowell, Charles H. “” I Have Never Looked Back Since”: An Interview with Roy Decarava.” Callaloo 13, no. 4 (1990): 859-71.

Stange, Maren. “”Illusion Complete within Itself”: Roy Decarava’s Photography.” The Yale Journal of Criticism 9, no. 1 (1996): 63-92.

O’Meally, Robert G., ed. The jazz cadence of American culture. Columbia University Press, 1998.

DeCarava, Roy. The Sound I Saw: Improvisation on a Jazz Theme. Phaidon, 2003.

Blair, Sara. Harlem Crossroads: Black Writers and the Photograph in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Ings, Richard. “’And You Slip into the Breaks and Look Around’: Jazz and Everyday Life in the Photographs of Roy DeCarava.” In: Lock, Graham, and David Murray, eds. The Hearing Eye: Jazz & Blues Influences in African American Visual Art. Oxford University Press, 2009: 303-331.

Saul, Scott. Freedom is, freedom ain’t: jazz and the making of the sixties. Harvard University Press, 2009, 248-253.
Cawthra, Benjamin. Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Cole, “A True Picture of Black Skin”, The New York Times Magazine, Feb 18, 2015 (archived elsewhere, for the time being, and referred to us by Marisa Parham during empyre conversation on liquid blackness: Formal Approaches to Blackness and/as Aesthetics

Kimberly Juanita Brown, “Roy DeCarava’s Ambient Evenings,” The Dark Room Seminar


Teenie Harris

Harris, Charles. Spirit of a Community: The Photographs of Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris. Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 2001.

Crouch, Stanley. One Shot Harris: The Photographs of Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris. Harry N. Abrams, 2002.

Willis, Deborah. Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers from 1840 to Present. Norton, 2002.

Finley, Cheryl. Teenie Harris, Photographer: Image, Memory, History. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.

Andrew Dosunmu


See previous list (re: Arthur Jafa), and in addition:

Cubitt, Sean, Daniel Palmer and Les Walkling. “Enumerating Photography from Spot Meter to CCD.” Theory, Culture, & Society 32(7-8) (2015): 245-265.

Hornaday, Ann. “‘12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Mother of George,’ and the Aesthetic Politics of Filming Black Skin.” Washington Post, October 17, 2013.

King, Jamilah. “Cinematographer Bradford Young on Lighting Dark Skin and the ‘Subversive’ Power of the Black Church.” Color Lines, October 10, 2014,

Latif, Nadia. “It’s Lit! How Film Finally Learned to Light Black Skin.” The Guardian, September 21, 2017.

McFadden, Syreeta. “Teaching the Camera to See my Skin: Navigating Photography’s Inherent Bias Against Dark Skin.” Buzzfeed, April 2, 2014,

Sterne, Jonathan and Dylan Mulvin. “The Low Acuity for Blue: Perceptual Technics and American Color Television.” Journal of Visual Culture 13(2) (2014): 118-138.

Sterne, Jonathan and Dylan Mulvin. “Test Images and the American Color Television Standard.” Television & New Media 17(1) (2016): 21-43.

Thompson, Patricia. “Bradford Young discusses the cinematography of Ava DuVernay’s Selma and J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.” American Cinematographer 96(2) (February 2015),

Walker, Christopher Daniel. “Lighting and Photographing Skin Tones.” Vantage, March 18, 2016.

Williams, David E. “Street Knowledge.” American Cinematographer 96, no. 9 (September 2015): 38–55.

Yamato, Jen. “‘Selma’s Bradford Young On The Politics Of Lensing Black Films.” Deadline Hollywood, December 21, 2014.

Yue, Genevieve. “The China Girl on the Margins of Film.” October 153 (Summer 2015): 96-116.