The latest Marvel film Black Panther has achieved diverse representation in many aspects including the soundtrack, something which was missed by the equally pioneering film, Wonder Woman.
Black Panther (2018) has been a hot topic since its announcement back in 2014. Featuring the (rather belated) first lead black superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film follows the success of last year’s release of Wonder Woman (2017), the (also belated) first superhero film led by a female in a DC or Marvel universe. Black Panther has received slightly higher ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, however both films boast impressive success; Wonder Woman is the highest-earning film directed by a female,(1) the third highest-grossing film in 2017,(2) and the highest-earning superhero origin film.(3)
Black Panther sets an admirable example of diverse representation. Featuring an almost completely black cast, there’s no risk of whitewashing, a custom sadly still apparent in 21st Century Hollywood, and the film was directed by Ryan Coogle who is probably best known for directing Rocky-spinoff, Creed. With little other credits to his name, Black Panther is sure to accelerate Coogle’s career prosperity. To top it off, the film was written by Coogle and Joe Robert Cole. The diversity isn’t all about race, either. Black Panther has finally given us some strong black female superheroes while attaining to an attitude where the very idea of inequality between races and genders is utterly unthinkable.
Wonder Woman, on the other hand, lacked such diversity. The film was directed by Patty Jenkins who, like Coogle, also has little credits to her name which is sure to soon change thanks to the success of Wonder Woman and the prospect of its sequel. However, Wonder Woman is still predominantly male-dominated, featuring four credited male writers and a cast which just about tips over to the male-heavy side. Despite these set-backs and the sustained societal segregation between men and women within the film (a story for another day), Wonder Woman took one step (not a leap) towards achieving gender equality in Hollywood.
The underscore for Black Panther was written by Swedish music composer Ludwig Göransson. However this can be forgiven to some extent as Coogle appointing rapper-songwriter Kendrick Lamar to curate the Soundtrack which features music from and ‘inspired by’ the film, as well as artists who epitomise black culture including SZA, Jorja Smith, Khalid and Travis Scott.
The music accompaniment for Wonder Woman is a similar story. The Wonder Woman theme we all know and love was written for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by Junkie XL, known for composing music for high-action films, and Hans Zimmer, known for composing everything else. It’s highly possible if Zimmer hadn’t ‘retired’ from the superhero game, he would have been chosen to compose the score for Wonder Woman. So to whom do the film makers turn? A female composer perhaps, who’s been waiting for the day she’s no longer overlooked due to her femininity? No such luck. They appoint Rupert Gregson-Williams to take up the task, who creates, quite frankly, a generic, forgettable, ‘superhero’-sounding score, which lacks the interest and individuality the pioneering Wonder Woman film needed.
There are little female and black prolific composers. It’s difficult to think of a composer who isn’t a white male. Black Panther met half way with Lamar’s contributions, however Wonder Woman‘s attempts were nonexistent.
It’s important films continue to break the status quo, question and represent diversity. Representation in Hollywood has cropped up a lot lately, from Moonlight (2016) to Disney princesses. This representation isn’t just about what’s on screen, however, it’s about the people behind the camera, the director, the writers, the music composer, etc.