The Oscar-nominated cinematographer breaks down one of the film’s most buzzed-about sequences.
[This story contains spoilers for Black Panther.]
Rachel Morrison has very quickly emerged as one of the most recognizable names in cinematography, due in part to the fact that last month she became the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar in her field for Mudbound. She’s also getting plenty of attention for her first big-budget feature, Marvel phenomenon Black Panther, which includes an epic action scene set in a casino.
The scene begins with T’challa (Chadwick Boseman) heading to a South Korean casino in hopes of capturing the villainous Klaue (Andy Serkis), who is supposed to be there to sell a piece of the valuable metal vibranium. Things don’t go quite according to plan, and the Black Panther ends up in a battle with help from Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).
In this sequence, Okoye kicks a thug out over a ledge, jumps out after him and “the camera jumps out after her,” says Morrison.
“You kind of just float down with her and her dress — she’s wearing a gown — and then she lands and impales him with her spear,” she adds.
It was shot using a descender rig — meaning a camera mounted to a cable —that could effectively “jump” out on top of her.
“It could only descend, so it would drop with her and we hid a cut,” Morrison explains, adding of the sequence, “originally it was conceived as [one continuous take], but because we had so many characters, we ended up having to mix a few more cuts to be able to tell stories of what was going on with different people. But it was still largely longer, single takes.”
The film is currently breaking box-office records and stands as Marvel Studios’ most well-reviewed movie ever.
Black Panther also gave Morrison a chance to reteam with Ryan Coogler, for whom she lensed 2003’s Fruitvale Station. “The best part about Panther was just getting to spend time with him,” says Morrison. “He’s family at this point. He’s like the brother I always wanted but never had. He’s such a special human being, and he makes me a better person just from being around him. But it was exciting that we were both doing something [new].”
Their overall approach to the film was to ensure that Black Panther didn’t look ‘super-hero-ish.’ “We wanted it to feel like a love story to earth and to Africa and nature,” she says.