Is blackface makeup standard shooting procedure? That’s the question dogging “Good Boys,” the upcoming comedy directed by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Sources close to the production told TMZ a complaint was filed to the producers after a stand-in for 11-year-old actor Keith L. Williams appeared on set with makeup applied to darken his face.
TMZ acquired photos of the child actor in darkened face makeup, but sources close to the production company Good Universe told the outlet it’s “not uncommon for lighting purposes to match actors’ skin tones.” Both Williams and his stand-in are African-American. The makeup applied to the stand-in was reportedly used to match his lighter skin tone with Williams’ darker skin tone on camera. The stand-in’s father is “offended by the claims being made regarding his son.”
IndieWire spoke with three established cinematographers, none of whom had heard of using makeup to darken skin tone and described the practice as unorthodox. One cinematographer, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitive nature of this story, said in most cases the crew would rely on lighting and other methods to make the necessary adjustments if a stand-in didn’t resemble his or her main actor.
“It is important for me to cast a person with similar complexion and physical stature to the actors they are standing in for,” the cinematographer said. “In regards to makeup, I’ve seen wigs used and powder to take down shine, but maybe not as extreme as what is being suggested here. I personally would never ask for someone to be made up in a darker tone. You would just compensate for what you understand to be lighter or darker while lighting.”
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Another DP, also speaking on anonymity, said factors such as height, skin tone, hair color, face shape, and age need to be considered when selecting stand-ins so that they look as close as possible to the main actor.
To determine how to expose skin tone, cinematographers often utilize the IRE meter built into most cameras. The rule of thumb: Lighter Caucasian skin should fall into the 70-80 IRE range, while darker skin tones can run a wide gamut of IRE. Some experts place the number at 50-70 IRE, but the discussion over skin tone has become far more nuanced in recent years.
In a 2017 interview with “Insecure” cinematographer Ava Berkofsky, the director of photography explained why dialing dark skin tone up to 50-70 “is just going to make the rest of the image look weird.” For “Moonlight,” cinematographer James Laxton defied standard IRE standards by using innovative high-contrast lighting schemes. Cinematographer Bradford Young, meanwhile, has been credited with his remarkable work exposing dark skin tones working in the lower end of exposure.
“Good Boy” marks Eisenberg and Stupnitsky’s feature directorial debut. The duo is best known for writing episodes of “The Office” and the script for the Cameron Diaz comedy “Bad Teacher.” The project was first announced in August 2017 and is described as being in the same vein as Rogen and Goldberg’s “Sausage Party” and “Superbad.” The story centers around four 12-year-olds who skip school and get into trouble after they set out on a mission to fix a broken toy. Williams co-stars opposite Jacob Tremblay, Molly Gordon, and Brady Noon.
The “Good Boy” producers are reportedly aware a complaint has been filed and are looking into the matter. IndieWire has reached out to Rogen, Goldberg, Eisenberg, and Stupnitsky’s representatives for further comment. “Good Boy” is set for release in 2019.
Additional reporting by Chris O’Falt