“Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson understands that a movie about interracial sex ought to be largely about skin and the sensuality of hue. His deep toned lighting for Spike Lee’s interracial-sex drama Jungle Fever gives that movie its only artistic merit.”
“It should be said outright that no one before Ernest Dickerson has photographed people of color with such intelligence, imagination, or beauty–that includes Soumendu Roy’s work with Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray or even the color films of Idrissa Ouedroago, Ousmane Sembene, or Akira Kurosawa. Since Do The Right Thing, Ernest Dickerson has framed and lighted performers of varying skin shades so that a viewer gets a palpable delight in the human rainbow. Mo’ Better Blues was the most sheerly beautiful-looking movie of 1990.”
“More than that, Ernest Dickerson’s work in contemporary settings conveys an appreciation for the photogenic aspects of race politics. Even street scenes and interiors are visualized as opposed to merely “captured.” His color patterns have been as delicate and pure as some of Sven Nykvist’s lighting for Ingmar Bergman’s films but without abstracting the figures from their social roots. The way Ernest Dickerson makes “a picture” of people in workplaces or domestic locations shows an important conceptualization of cinematic vision. He doesn’t just remove the lens cap and adjust the focus, basing his lighting style around Caucasian skin tones, as is the norm, He has transformed the way beauty is perceived in the movies. It’s an aesthetic discovery comparable to Gauguin’s and Matisse’s exotic paintings but minus the exoticism. He has found a whole new visual aura.”
“Unfortunately, Jungle Fever’s visual sophistication is miles ahead of its verbalized and acted-out political ideas. In a sense, Ernest Dickerson’s work is far too rich for Spike Lee’s simplified demonstration of what Black and White people, men and women, don’t know about each other. He’s photographing real people, while Spike Lee is using stick figures to dramatize a scene. Something extraordinarily complicated–and morally ugly–is…”
To read more of Armond White’s take on the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever, purchase a new or used copy of The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook The World.