“Da 5 Bloods” Terence Blanchard, a Grammy-winning jazz musician who earned his first Oscar nomination two years ago for Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” has an idea about how to boost diversity in Hollywood music — and give more talented women and musicians of color an opportunity to score films.
“What we should do is have blind auditions. Listen to some music and tell me if it was written by a woman or a person of color, because you would know much better than me,” Blanchard said during a panel of Oscar-shortlisted film composers as part of TheWrap’s Awards Screening Series. “For me…it’s not about gender and it’s not about race. It’s about who is bringing a unique voice to the project.”
Despite his own success in Hollywood, Blanchard believes that his race has sometimes hurt his job prospects. “I’ve had people who wanted to hire me for a project by hearing something that I’ve written, and when they found out that I came into the business through Spike Lee, they didn’t hire me,” he said.
Fellow panelist Lolita Ritmanis (“Blizzard of Souls”) agreed that women and musicians of color are often stereotyped into certain types of film score music. Even though she’s spent decades writing scores for animated DC superhero shows like “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League Unlimited,” she says she’s still surprised by reactions from people when they hear some of her more intense scores.
“I am scoring a film from Latvia, and it’s so rare that an international film gets anywhere near a shortlist in a general category for music, and that’s probably because it’s a big epic score and people say ‘I didn’t know she could do that!'” she said. “Let’s look at the composers that have been stuck at a decent level, at the mid-range, and let’s elevate those composers up so we can have more women and musicians of color scoring the highest-grossing films…it’s not that women are only capable of writing piano scores with string pads or African-American composers are only capable of doing jazz music.”
Ludwig Goransson, who composed the score for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” agreed that it is up to the producers and directors to open the door more for underrepresented artists, but also thinks that composers can have an impact as well.
“I got my start as an assistant and a lot of composers when they’re getting established in the scene, they need composer assistants,” he said. “So we need to be aware of that when we hire people and maybe give a person of color a chance or a female composer assistant to give them an opportunity.”
“You hear immediately who can write and who can’t write, and I’ve never looked at it with a color filter on it,” added “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” composer John Debney. “Let’s do the blind audition thing and bring everybody to the party.”
While Ritmanis has fought the stereotype that women don’t do epic soundtracks, Dustin O’Halloran went in the opposite direction to craft a more subtle score for the LGBT period drama “Ammonite.” “I was coming off films that were heavily scored, and I found it refreshing that there was so much space and that it wasn’t going to be a big score,” he said. “Those can be a bit more tricky because every note matters and every part you have to take care of how fragile it is.”
Emile Mosseri, an up-and-coming composer who recently got his start with films like “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” now has his most high-profile score yet with Best Picture contender “Minari,” a film whose score Mosseri wrote before the cameras even started rolling.
“I had just written a bunch of music in the spirit of (writer-director Lee Issac Chung’s) script and sent it to him so they had it on hand before they started shooting. They were listening to it while they were driving around Arkansas… and when they started sending me dailies there was a creative back-and-forth,” he said. “It was a dream to work that way…I felt like the music had a bit more room to breath and was baked more into the batter of the film.”
Watch the composers’ remarks on diverse in film scoring in the clip above and watch the full Q&A above.