When he was attending New York University Film School with classmate Spike Lee, filmmaker Ernest Dickerson was faced with a common belief that was even more true for Black graduates.
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“The mantra was there is no life after film school. That hit Spike and me because there were hardly any African Americans in film,” said Dickerson.
Today, Spike Lee is Spike Lee and Dickerson, with his work on “The Wire” and “The Walking Dead,” is one of the most in-demand directors in television.
This week, Dickerson will return to his alma mater, Howard University, where he will conduct a week-long film seminar for students there. He’ll dissect his films, meet with students one-on-one, and participate in a workshop titled “The Relationship of the Director and Cinematographer” moderated by his former teacher Haile Gerima.
“When I was coming up we didn’t have that. We didn’t have anybody to talk to and get guidance from. We were shooting in the dark trying to figure out how to become working professionals,” said Dickerson, an Emmy- and- Peabody-award winner who was just nominated for a 2013 NAACP Image Award for Best Director for his work on HBO’s “Treme.”
These days, Dickerson is working frequently. In addition to his work on “Dexter” and “Treme,” Dickerson filmed the pilot for the AMC pilot Low Winter Sun, a drama about corruption and murder in Detroit. He also just finished the Season 3 finale for the AMC hit show “The Walking Dead.”
What can fans of the show expect? Dickerson couldn’t reveal much but said you never know whose going to live or die on the show.
“It’s a horror series, but it’s serious horror. You care about the people things are happening to,” said Dickerson. “I treat the show like a modern-day western.”
Dickerson co-wrote and directed “Juice” and was the cinematographer on Spike Lee films such as “She’s Gotta Have It,” “School Daze,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” and “Malcolm X.” According to Dickerson, he has always tried to bring a film sensibility to his television work.
“I’m proud that one of the first television shows I ever did was “The Wire.” They wanted filmmaking and they wanted filmmaking sensibility,” said Dickerson. “I had a chance to direct a scene between a Black mayor and Black police commissioner who were running Shakespearean power moves on one another in a wood-paneled office. How often does that happen? That’s what I live for.”
The representation of African Americans on television is not where it needs to be, said Dickerson.