Bisexual Lighting: the Rise of Pink, Purple, and Blue


So a few months back this tweet by writer Hattie Soykan was making the rounds, and it had screencaps of these four movies in it.

And I responded half jokingly with this: "Idea for a video essay: The Rise of Bi-Lighting" And.

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people seemed to like my joke tweet? So.

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Wanna talk about Bi Lighting? [Music: Gettin' Bi from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend] ♪ So if you ask me how I'm doing, here is my reply ♪ I'm g-g-g-g-getting bi! I'm getting bi! ♪ Oh yeah I'm letting my bi flag fly! KYLE: First off, what is Bi Lighting? Well, any lighting that replicates the color scheme of the bisexual flag: that being pink, blue, with purple in between.

The flag itself dates back to 1998, when an activist named Michael Page designed it to increase bi visibility within the LGBT community.

[Music: Gettin' Bi from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend] ♪ I don't care if you wear high heels or a tie, ♪ You might just catch my eye because I'm definitely bi.

Of course, it wasn't the first time an artist set pink next to blue [clip sound: menacing laughing, thunder] And of course, neon pinks and blues define so much of what we consider the 80s look.

[Music: Jem and the Holograms theme] ♪ Jem, Jem is excitement, ooooh Jem, Jem is a– [machine gun fire] Kyle: Especially in crime stories.

Traditional Noir was monochrome.

But Neo-Noir? Neon blues and pinks.

But in the 21st century, the connection between the color scheme and bisexuality was cemented.

Especially within certain fandoms.

[Music: The Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga] Lady Gaga used a purple palette in this video, and last year, Charlize Theron's explicitly bisexual character in Atomic Blonde was bathed in pinks and blues.

[Music: Make Me Feel by Janelle Monáe] ♪ That's just the way you make me feel Then Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer dropped and she came out as pansexual, which is different from bisexual, And I can devote an entire video to pieces color symbolism throughout all of Dirty Computer but I'd be getting off track.

Then Pantone declared this shade of violet to be the color of the year for 2018.

So.

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It's officially a trend.

So why is everyone throwing pinks and blues at everything? Fairy: Oh, now look what you've done! Kyle: There's the obvious answer that it's part of a larger social movement to increase visibility and acceptance of people who are attracted to two or more genders, but that seems a little too simple of an answer.

Especially for me.

And the show that I do.

And isn't all color symbolism kind of arbitrary anyway? I mean, how do we know that your blue, pink, and purple is the same as my pink, blue, and purple? Well.

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I did some research.

[music: instrumental electronic with a nice beat] Now, I'm not a scientist, so if I botch this explanation, um, go easy on me? So light moves in waves, and the wavelength determines how that color appears to the human eye.

Your eye can only pick up a small band of the complete electromagnetic spectrum.

These are called Pure Colors or Spectral Colors.

So how does the eye see color? With two types of photosensitive cells: rods, which detect brightness, and cones, which detect color.

There are three types of cones, which detect different wavelengths of light: long, medium, short.

Or: reddish, greenish, and bluish.

All the colors you can see are combinations picked up by these three cells, which can be measured.

Now if you graph these values in the 3D space and then calculate the values on each axis required to replicate every spectral color, You get this U-shape.

If you compress this visually onto a 2D plane, then fill in the shape, you have a full representation of every color the human eye can detect, arranged as absolute values relative to each other.

This graph is called the CIE Chromaticity Diagram.

Commissioned by the International Commission on Illumination in 1931.

CIE being the acronym for the French name of the group.

And this is the ultimate authority on what colors are what.

Everything on this line is a Pure Color, and this line, the space in between the reddest red and the violetest violet, is called the Line of Purple.

These aren't spectral colors, but combinations of short and long wavelengths of light.

And that is where Bi-Lighting lives.

Science! So where can we see Bi-Lighting in nature? Well, there's a reason most sci-fi uses pinks, blues, and purples as a quick shorthand for.

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alien.

[music: The Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley] ♪ It was a one-eyed one-horned flyin' purple people eater, ♪ one-eyed one-horned flyin' purple people eater, [screaming] Most light sources you can think of are incandescent, meaning that they give off light because they're also giving off.

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heat.

There we go.

So not only fire, but most light bulbs, the Sun, stars.

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Anything that burns, essentially.

And all incandescent light gives off the same kind of white light the hotter the object is burning.

And that white can be tracked on our diagram with this line, called the Planckian Locus after physicist Max Planck.

So as something burns hotter, it'll go from red-orange, to white, to light blue, the hotter it gets.

Filmmakers know this phenomenon as Color Temperature, so if you ever shot something without white-balancing it first and it came out looking orange or bluish, that's why.

And it's probably why every blockbuster in the last 10 years has defaulted to that blue-and-orange color palette: It's flashy, without feeling unnatural.

An aesthetic which eventually reached its zenith under Nicolas Winding Refn.

And in Refn's later work, he started exploring less naturalistic color schemes.

Because these deep purples and pinks and magentas don't appear in nature.

[music: the opening chords of Purple Rain by Prince] They appear in the illusion created by blue and red light: the illusion of purple.

I'm surprised I didn't cut to him sooner.

♪ Purple rain, purple rain Kyle: Purple has always been an elusive color, rarely found in nature.

And when it is, it's usually a signal not meant for us, but rather for something with a wider range of vision.

These flowers are purple not for us, but for their pollinators.

Well, let's put the science aside and use the simplest possible definition of purple: blue plus red.

The symbolism of blue is, well, I did a whole video about it.

Narration: Blue stretches, yawns, and is awake.

Kyle: And red is often used as blue's contrast, and so purple represents the unity of opposites.

Blue and red, united.

And so for many cultures, purple is the connection between Heaven and Earth, between God and humanity.

Which is what people mean when they say purple is a royal color.

So if it's so uncommon in nature, why is it becoming so common in movies? Well, I have a theory, And it has to do with the screen that you're looking at right now.

[music: upbeat and electronic] Odds are you're watching this video on some electronic device: desktop, laptop, phone, tablet, whatever.

Which means that you're looking at light created by electroluminescence.

Luminescence meaning light not created by heat, electro meaning.

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forgettable supervillain.

Electro: Don't you know? I'm Electro.

Computer imagery, like your eye, also measures color as a mix of three different values.

Each pixel of this screen is made of a red, green, and blue light, and the brightness of those lights determine the color displayed on the screen.

So if we map that over our chromaticity diagram, the brightest red, the brightest green, the brightest blue, you get this.

Depending on the intensity of your screen's LEDs, it can display any color inside of this triangle.

The area inside this triangle is called The Gamut.

As in "running the gamut.

" This is fundamentally different from how film has traditionally been shown.

Instead of shining a light behind a filmstrip and watching the resulting shadows, the entire screen is a light source.

So while we lose the deep shadows of Film Noir, we gain a fuller color palette.

Meaning you can make any color you want: you can run the gamut of color.

Wheeee, look at all the colors, wheeee.

This opens up an interesting new way to display color, But it can also pose a problem when shooting digitally.

Most cameras set their gamut so high that even saturated colors can look greyish before color correction, And it also means that it's harder to shoot digitally in low-light.

if a digital camera sees something whiter than white or black or than black, no amount of color correction will bring back those fine details So when modern filmmakers tell stories about people who live in shadows, we simply light the shadows.

Digital filmmaking has given us a new way to show darkness.

[music] ♪ There, in the dark Kyle: You ever notice how John wick seems more vulnerable when he's in oranges and yellows, but put him in blues and pinks and, well [gunshots] Character: Good evening Mr.

Wick.

How may I be of service? John Wick: Is the doctor in? So, it's aesthetically liberating and also politically liberating.

[music: ominous strings] There's a great Mic interview with cinematographer Ava Berkofsky where she describes her process with lighting Black actors for HBO's Insecure.

She was taught conventional Hollywood wisdom that to light Black actors, make sure they're in a bright setting.

Which works fine, if you're doing a sitcom.

[music: upbeat drumming] But if you're working with HBO to make something look cinematic, it's a problem.

Even more so if you're telling the story of a late-twenty-something Black woman who spends a lot of time in dimly-lit nightclubs.

It's long been a problem for People of Color on film because film has a history of being racist.

Not just the film industry, mind you: film itself has a history of being racist.

For most of movie history film stock was manufactured with white subjects in mind.

Which is fine if you're lighting Humphrey Bogart, but poor Dooley Wilson looks under-lit.

Directors of Color have long challenged this history by showing how darker skin tones can look beautiful, even in low lighting.

Ava DuVernay: With Selma it was just so deeply embedded in our, you know, love of our people, then also just, we really were always playing with the idea of the Black body.

There's a whole scene where there's two dark men: David Oyelowo and Colman Domingo, sitting in a dark jail cell.

That was our first day of shooting.

so that was the first day, was to go to the studio and they were like.

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[audience laughing] That, that image, just the image of two dark-skinned people sitting in a dark space was so startling and rare, Interviewer: -Yeah.

DuVernay: That it needed extra dailies colorists.

Like, just to see if, is there information there, they call it "information.

" Like if we want to turn it up, can we? Kyle: And of course, it's long been an industry secret that bluer lights are kinder to darker skin: Consider Tarell Alvin McCraney's play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, which was turned into a feature film you might have heard of.

So if we're going to get serious about getting a wider range of skin tones cinematic representation, this is a great way to do it.

It quite literally makes the darkness brighter, and gives us a better look at people who've been pushed to the shadows.

Or maybe we just like watching scenes set in nightclubs.

[club sounds: music, talking, laughing] But then again, why do clubs use it? [music: nostalgic-sounding Hammond Organ-esque keyboard] From film's beginning, lighting has been used to flatter and fetishize.

By wrapping the face in a light reminiscent of the Dutch masters, like Rembrandt or Vermeer, natural lighting is truth.

Is beauty.

But usually only for widely accepted definitions of beauty.

For the marginalized, unnatural lighting is freedom.

Person: It's like crossing into the looking-glass.

Wonderland.

You go in there and you feel, you feel a hundred percent right.

Being– being gay.

Interviewer: And that's not what it's like in the world.

Same person: It's not what it's like in the world.

That's not what it's like in the world.

You know, it should be like that in the world.

Kyle: The one thing that makes Bi-Lighting Bi-Lighting is the lack of incandescent light: it happens in environments without sunlight, without candlelight.

In artificial spaces.

Nighttime, or indoors.

Usually in private.

Ultimately, movies use these lighting schemes for the same reason clubs use it: by letting you feel that you look great, that you're surrounded by people who can love you, who want the same things that you do, It gives you the feeling that you are in– dare I utter the phrase– a safe space.

And most importantly, it looks awesome.

And like all great visual motifs, it lets the image say something that you might otherwise have trouble saying out loud.

[music: happy saxophone with a good drum beat].

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