Songs From Black Films Dominate as Oscar Music Shortlists Are Released

Jon Burlingame
·4-min read

The shortlists for the Academy Awards’ two music categories are out, and while there are few surprises among the 375-member music branch’s 15 choices for best original score, there’s a remarkable shift in the original song category: Nearly half of the 15 songs on that list emerged from narrative films or documentaries whose casts or subjects were predominantly Black.

Most of these songs had already been tagged as leading contenders, even though it was hardly a certainty they’d all make the shortlist. Among them: Janelle Monae’s “Turntables” from the voter-suppression doc “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” Mary J. Blige’s “See What You’ve Done” from the prison-sterilization documentary “Belly of the Beast,” John Legend’s “Never Break” from the young-actor doc “Giving Voice,” Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami,” H.E.R.’s “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Celeste’s “Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” all made it.

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Joining them was he biggest surprise of this batch: Lalah Hathaway’s song “Show Me Your Soul” from the “Mr. Soul!” documentary (about the PBS series “Soul!”) made the list. A minor surprise was the choice of “Make It Work,” sung by Anika Noni Rose and Forest Whitaker in the holiday musical “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.”

Veteran songwriter Diane Warren is up for a pair of slots when music-branch voters choose their final five: “Io Sì (Seen)” from the Sophia Loren film “The Life Ahead” and “Free” from the Disney film “The One and Only Ivan.” With 11 nominations to date without a win, she is certain to score a 12th and possibly 13th nomination when Oscar nominations are announced March 15.

Two comedic songs made the shortlist: the redneck anthem “Wuhan Flu” from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and the faux Icelandic competition entry “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”

Rounding out the song list: the Korean-language “Rain Song” from “Minari,” Christina Aguilera’s “Loyal Brave True” from Disney’s live-action remake “Mulan,” and the gentle “Green” from “The Sound of Metal.”

Songs from “The Prom,” “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” and such animated hits as “Trolls World Tour,” “Over the Moon” and “Onward” failed to make the list.

To no one’s surprise, two-thirds of the score shortlist consists of previous Oscar winners or nominees. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won for “The Social Network,” made the list twice: for their jazzy score for the period Hollywood film “Mank,” and for their otherworldly soundscape for the Pixar afterlife movie “Soul,” which they share with jazz composer Jon Batiste.

Other past winners making the shortlist were Ludwig Goransson (“Black Panther”) for “Tenet,” Alexandre Desplat (“The Shape of Water”) for “The Midnight Sky” and Gabriel Yared (“The English Patient”) for “The Life Ahead.” Past Oscar nominees include Dustin O’Halloran and Volker Bertelmann (“Lion”) for “Ammonite,” Terence Blanchard (“BlacKkKlansman”) for “Da 5 Bloods,” John Debney (“The Passion of the Christ”) for “Jingle Jangle,” James Newton Howard (“The Village”) for “News of the World” and 15-time past nominee Thomas Newman (“American Beauty”) for “The Little Things.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the score shortlist, and coincidentally the only female composer to make it, was Lolita Ritmanis, who scored Latvia’s entry for International Feature Film, “Blizzard of Souls.” The film itself did not make today’s foreign-film shortlist, but Ritmanis, one of the founders of the Alliance for Women Film Composers, is widely admired in the Hollywood music community.

Other composers who, if nominated, will be first-timers at the Oscars, are Benjamin Wallfisch (“It”) for “The Invisible Man,” Emile Mosseri (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) for “Minari,” Harry Gregson-Williams (“The Martian”) for “Mulan” and Daniel Pemberton (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Voters chose from 105 songs and 136 scores entered for the competition. Voting for the final five in each category takes place between March 5 and 10, with nominees to be announced March 15. The Oscar ceremony is scheduled for April 25.

The complete lists, as released today by Academy officials:

Original Song:

“Turntables” from “All In: The Fight for Democracy”

“See What You’ve Done” from “Belly of the Beast”

“Wuhan Flu” from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

“Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”

“Never Break” from “Giving Voice”

“Make It Work” from “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”

“Fight For You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”

“lo Sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)”

“Rain Song” from “Minari”

“Show Me Your Soul” from “Mr. Soul!”

“Loyal Brave True” from “Mulan”

“Free” from “The One and Only Ivan”

“Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami…”

“Green” from “Sound of Metal”

“Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Original Score:

“Ammonite”

“Blizzard of Souls”

“Da 5 Bloods”

“The Invisible Man”

“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”

“The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)”

“The Little Things”

“Mank”

“The Midnight Sky”

“Minari”

“Mulan”

“News of the World”

“Soul”

“Tenet”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

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