Rachel Morrison is having a great 2018. In January, she made history by becoming the first-ever female cinematographer nominated for an Oscar, for her work on the Netflix drama Mudbound. This month, she’s being celebrated for her cinematography on box office phenomenon Black Panther.
“Obviously this is a dream, it’s crazy,” Morrison told PEOPLE recently of her Oscar nomination. “I don’t think I really had any idea, I guess because of the historical significance, that it was going to be such a big deal. I think it’s a shame it didn’t come sooner and didn’t happen for women like Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) or Mandy Walker (Hidden Figures) who have been making incredible work, but I’ll take it and hopefully it’s going to pave the way for many many more.”
Shortly after the Oscar nominations were announced, Morrison, 39, was whisked away to the Sundance Film Festival to serve on the jury. In-between screenings she was getting updates from Black Panther director Ryan Coogler about the finishing touches on her first big-budget film, just weeks ahead of its star-studded L.A. premiere. Morrison, who first worked with Coogler on his critically-acclaimed first feature Fruitvale Station said that the reaction at the premiere was beyond anything she expected.
“The premiere was incredible, it was electric,” she recalled. “You never know, especially when you get so close to something it becomes very hard to see the forest through the trees. You never know how the world will respond to it. It was such an incredible reaction, palpable energy.”
Morrison’s Mudbound director Dee Rees was one of the lucky few at the premiere and glowed with pride for both Morrison and Coogler when asked about the film.
“It’s the best Marvel movie Marvel has ever made,” she said. “It has a philosophy and it’s hard to create a superhero movie that has a philosophy, and has a moral question at the center so, it was amazing.”
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When asked about what aspect of Panther she is most proud of, Morrison said the film as a whole.
“In some ways it’s the variation from the smaller intimate moments and the bigger car chases and explosions,” she said. “I’m a humanity person, so the small moments are the ones I always get closest too, but I like that in one film you have such a wide range. I was surprised at the funny one liners too. You’re not sure how they’re going to play until they’re in context.”
Given that Black Panther is Morrison’s first experience working on a film with a Marvel-sized budget, did she get to play with any special or fancy filmmaking toys?
“I’d never had a Technocrane with an Oculus head on an entire movie,” she revealed of the pricey camera movement equipment. “That as a toy and a tool is, you can do anything with it. So this was my first time where it was like no camera move was out of range.”
While Morrison’s next project has yet to be announced, it’s likely that she’ll continue to be busy and in-demand, even if she hasn’t fully wrapped her head around all of the attention and accolades.
“I’m still processing it and digesting it all,” she admitted. “Cinematographers, we like to be behind the camera and out of the spotlight. As amazing as [the attention] is, this is all so foreign to me.”
She added: “The other thing that’s been nice is people have come out of the woodwork, like my high school boyfriend from sophomore year sent me an email, and people I hadn’t seen since middle school, my parents both passed away ages ago and their old friends have found me, that’s been really nice. Also a little crazy.”
Black Panther is now playing in theaters. The 2018 Oscars ceremony will be held at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4 and will be televised live on ABC at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.