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Department Of Theatre And Media Arts

BYU Alum Alexis Romero Walker on Diversity in Film Lighting, Media and the Classroom

During a visit to her old stomping grounds, Walker demonstrated how media arts faculty and students can make the industry more inclusive through lighting


A graduate from BYU’s Theatre and Media Arts program and professor at Manhattanville College, Alexis Romero Walker is passionate about diverse representation in media. On March 8–10, Walker came back to her alma mater to train media arts faculty on inclusive practices in the classroom, lead a masterclass on lighting for people of color and hold a forum for students.

Walker said she was excited to visit the campus that she used to call home. “I have a lot of really great memories,” she said. “And I have so many amazing friends that I made when I was at BYU that I continue to talk to today.”

On March 9, Walker led a group of film students through proper lighting techniques for subjects with varying skin tones in a masterclass. Walker led the class alongside fellow TMA alum Oscar Jimenez, an award-winning cinematographer whose work has appeared in the Sundance film festival on multiple occasions.

The focus of the masterclass was to demonstrate to students that there are multiple ways of doing lighting outside of what is typically taught in the classroom. Walker and Jimenez also emphasized that students will need to use different techniques based on the projects and actors they’re working with.

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"Learning how to do these adjustments is crucial to making sure that we're really lighting people the way that they deserve."
Alexis Romero Walker
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“We're going to talk about how visual practices of photography and filming have fallen short in terms of lighting and the visual aspect of capturing people of color and how we can work to fix this,” Walker told the students. Walker cited hands-on learning with class projects as the most important way to experiment beyond the curriculum—to work with different techniques that aren’t usually taught as standard practices.

One of the most common lighting techniques that is taught in the classroom is three-point lighting. This traditional practice has three different light sources (a key light, back light and fill light) shining on the subject from three different angles. But while this way of doing lighting may work well for people with lighter skin colors, it’s not always the best solution to light those with different skin tones.

“Three-point lighting works great as an easy setup for white skin,” said Walker. “But for any other skin tone, it does not work in that same way.”

One of the main issues with contemporary lighting, Walker pointed out, is that it often overexposes the subject and makes the skin look much lighter than it is. In addition, getting this kind of lighting effect requires that the subject be under a hot, bright light that is close to their body, which can be uncomfortable for the subject.

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“We need to do a better job at recognizing that there are different rules for different systems . . . one shouldn’t be dominated over the other unnecessarily.”
Alexis Romero Walker
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To help students see how the current lighting system can be improved and more inclusive for people with different skin tones, Walker shared three ways that they can adjust the light to better showcase the subject: use hair lights, pay attention to skin undertones and use shadows.

“When we talk about lighting for people of color, we need to make adjustments that work with undertones, that work with reflections off both the body and off the walls, [that soften] lights rather than [bring] them super close to people's faces,” said Walker. “Learning how to do these adjustments is crucial to making sure that we're really lighting people the way that they deserve.”

For shooting scenes with multiple people who each have different skin tones, Walker said that adjusting the lighting will take some experimentation so that each subject in the scene is lit well.

“What we have to do is have a collaborative process here where we're working together to figure out what the best thing to do is,” she said.

During the forum on March 10, Walker shared some of the research that she’s done on expanding the curriculum to include more diverse perspectives in film than those that are typically taught.

Alexis Romero Walker presents to a group of students
Photo by Vivian Campos

Walker emphasized the need to make the classroom an empathetic and equitable place for all students, especially those who come from a minority background. An important aspect of creating such an environment, said Walker, is to consider how the classroom “rules”—both the rules about classroom behavior and the rules in film practice—are connected to the overall goals of the class.

“My number one recommendation to faculty is [to consider] how the rule that you're creating [is] connected to . . . the learning objectives,” said Walker.

Walker expanded on the theme of going beyond the “rules” of film practices and encouraged the students to experiment to find what works for each individual situation.

“We need to re-evaluate those rules,” said Walker. “We need to do a better job at recognizing that there are different rules for different systems . . . one shouldn’t be dominated over the other unnecessarily.”

Walker added, “You don't need to have the answers right away. I mean, none of us does; we’re figuring it out. But it's important that what we do changes.”