Composer Terence Blanchard previously collaborated with director Gina Prince-Bythewood on Love & Basketball. After lending his compositions for many high-profile films, including Bamboozled, Barbershop, 25th Hour, Inside Men, Talk to Me, BlacKkKlansman, Harriet, Da 5 Bloods, and One Night in Miami…, Blanchard reunites with Prince-Bythewood for her latest film, The Woman King, and has always appreciated working with the filmmaker throughout his career:
“Gina is really smart, but she’s also incredibly open. I can’t remember the scene I was working on, but we were talking about something, and she was in love with the temp track, which generally happens with many people. I was trying to get the music going in another direction, but I didn’t push the issue too much because if a director has a certain point of view on their film, it’s their film and their vision. I don’t have much control over that. However, amidst that conversation, she says, “Well, convince me.” Having a director who is receptive to other people’s feedback and open to other ideas and debates on different points of view is amazing because it’s not something you’ll find all the time.”
One of the first vital elements Blanchard did for the score of The Woman King was to “bring in the West African culture harmonically and melodically. With the action scenes, you would then use that rhythmic propulsion to help set those scenes up, so there are parts of that culture throughout the score. Even at the end, when I’m using flutes with an orchestra, that represents a part of African culture. I’m trying to utilize them like Stravinsky utilizes things from his Hungarian background to write all his controlled concertos. Gina was open to all of that. Once she heard the theme, she started understanding what I was trying to do with it. The next portion was interesting because, in our current business, everybody wants to hear them on demos. When I first got into the business, you could still play stuff on the piano and talk to the directors, it’s not like that anymore. Now, everybody wants to hear a demo. When you do a demo and try to use voices, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Gina didn’t get into it, and I kept telling her that the voices would not sound like that. But she immediately understood what I was talking about once we got into the studio.”
It was also essential to establish what Blanchard calls “a sonic palette” right from the opening moments of the film:
“It’s really about trying to set a tone for the film. It’s creating the sound for the Dahomey world and ensuring that the score stays within that context. It was essential to establish that immediately because we get into the action quickly. I love that opening scene because when they came out of that grass, I said, “Whoa, I need to start doing some push-ups and sit-ups.” Oh, my God, it was amazing. [laughs] That fight scene allowed me to establish the sound of how the score would shape itself because it wasn’t until we got to the kingdom when they came back that we could start establishing melodic content.
When we think of warriors, we think of men; we may use a specific type of brass harmony. I didn’t want to do any of that for The Woman King. That melody had to have strength and compassion at the same time. When I started composing it, it just fell into place. It was one of those things that I felt strongly about. I recorded it for Gina to send to her, because if she’s not feeling it, I have to move on. But when I sent it to her, she loved it right away, which was an enormous weight off my shoulders because when you start to relate to a film, it’s rough when you create something you love. It gets rejected because you have to re-establish a relationship with the movie. But since she loved it right away, it opened the doors for me to go with my gut because my gut reaction was the thing that landed it the first time. I wasn’t far from what she wanted, so I trusted my gut and feelings to deliver the rest of the film’s score for her, and it worked amazingly.”
You can listen to our full conversation below and buy or rent The Woman King in any digital or physical store right now:
[Some quotes were edited for length and clarity. Parts of the audio conversation were edited out.]