Profile: Ernest Dickerson (1951-)

Ernest Roscoe Dickerson is an American director, cinematographer, and screenwriter of film, television, and music videos.


Ernest’s style has a red thread throughout his films. Since he mostly makes horror, action and sci fi films, he mostly focuses on dark colors, a lot of contrast and mystic lights. Throughout his films, we see a lot of blue, green and yellow lights and smoke. Another thing he focuses on is the high contrast in his films.

Early life

Dickerson was born in Newark, New Jersey. He studied architecture at Howard University, but also took a film class with Haile Gerima as he already was interested in movies. He later relocated to New York City to attend New York University’s film program at the Tisch School of the Arts, where he met fellow student Spike Lee. His first feature film as director of photography was also Lee’s first film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983), filmed while both of them were still students. Lee kept Dickerson in mind and he returned to work on a few more films as Spike Lee’s cinematographer.


After graduating, Dickerson began his career as cinematographer on music videos for Bruce Springsteen, Anita Baker, and Miles Davis, and went on to film John Sayles’ Brother from Another Planet (1984), his first professional film as a director of photography.

While working on the first two seasons of George Romero’s television series Tales from the Darkside, Dickerson was a cameraman on John Jopson’s concert film One Night with Blue Note (1985) and was later contacted by Spike Lee, who had found the budget to shoot his movie She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Dickerson continued his collaboration with Lee on five more films, including  Do the Right Thing (1989). Their last collaboration was on Malcolm X in 1992, the same year Dickerson made his directing debut with the crime drama Juice. He also worked as a 2nd unit director on Lee’s Miracle at St Anna (2008).

Dickerson has always wanted to make films, and being a director himself has always been a dream of his. In an interview with The New York Times, he says: “I love to shoot, but directing is all about telling stories,” he says. “And there are so many stories out there I want to tell.”

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