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How black-and-white became Hollywood's favorite new color

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Black-and-white is the hot new trend in Hollywood, where directors of Oscars-contending films such as "Belfast" and "The Tragedy of Macbeth" are embracing monochrome for its storytelling power.

Kenneth Branagh's childhood drama and Joel Coen's Shakespeare adaptation are among a batch of recent acclaimed movies shot either entirely or mainly without color, as filmmakers seek to tap into the medium's inherent sense of historical authenticity and humanizing intimacy.

"Color allows you brilliantly to describe people, but black-and-white allows you to feel people," Branagh said of his deeply personal drama about violence in 1960s Northern Ireland, which is up for seven Oscars on Sunday including best picture.

While a "sweeping landscape of a desert or a mountain range" can be made epic by color, "an epic dimension of black-and-white photography, on a massive screen, is the human face."

The choice "makes for a poetic dimension to things that can otherwise seem a little banal," he told AFP.

Meanwhile, "Tragedy of Macbeth" cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel told The New York Times the effect was "meant to bring theatricality" and give the film a timeless quality. Its star Denzel Washington is in the running for best actor.

Monochrome movies have of course continued to exist since they fell out of mainstream favor during the 1950s, when cheaper color technology enabled more directors to emulate the bright tones that had dazzled audiences years earlier in "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone with the Wind."

In 2012, "The Artist" -- a film that was not just black-and-white but also silent -- won best picture at the Oscars, while the likes of "Roma" and "Mank" have won Oscars for best cinematography more recently.

But this year's colorless contingent has grown.

"We all got together... it was a DGA [Directors Guild of America] meeting," joked Mike Mills, whose family drama "C'mon C'mon" starring Joaquin Phoenix also comes in grayscale, and was nominated at this month's BAFTAs.

"I love black-and-white. I'm super pretentious. I watch a lot of black-and-white films -- they're my heroes' films, right? I just adore them," Mills said.

In "Passing" -- whose star Ruth Negga has been nominated for a batch of awards, winning at the Film Independent Spirit Awards earlier this month -- the format is used to tackle the issue of racism.

Rebecca Hall's directorial debut explores "racial passing," as two childhood friends of mixed racial heritage have a chance encounter in 1920s New York while both are pretending to be white.

"It wasn't just a stylistic choice. I felt that it was a conceptual choice -- to make a film about colorism... that drains the color out of it," Hall said at its Sundance film festival premiere.

"We look at faces, and then we immediately put them into these categorizations... the categorizations become important, but they are also in some senses absurd.

"Nobody is actually black-and-white. Film isn't black-and-white. It's gray.""-AFP

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