When They See Us arrived on Netflix as a politically and socially-charged mini-series recounting the true events that took place in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. People were quick to assume that five Black and Latino teens were guilty of a crime — brutally assaulting and raping a white woman who was jogging through the park— that they did not commit. On top of being wrongfully accused, they weren’t given the proper chance to prove their innocence.
The media did not hesitate in airing them out, describing them as a “gang wilding,” and not taking into account the lack of evidence. The result was a full-blown nightmare for five kids from Harlem.
The four-part miniseries was created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay and was composed by Steinway pianist Kris Bowers. The latter also made his mark by scoring Green Book, the 2019 Best Picture winner starring Mahershala Ali, whom he taught piano and even performed as his piano-playing body double during certain scenes in the film.
WE TAKE NOTE caught up with Bowers about scoring When They See Us, to hopefully highlight his innate ability to adapt to the shows he’s scoring by gauging what hip-hop records coincide with appropriate scenes.
Bowers will be at the Emmys this year since When They See Us is nominated for 16 awards including Outstanding Music Composition for A Limited Series. So we’re grateful he was able to connect with us before he hits the red carpet in September.
What inspires you to create music?
Story. My favorite artists, musicians, and composers were, at the end of the day, great storytellers. I find connecting to some sort of story is a great source of inspiration for me.
Tell us about the moment you discovered you’d been chosen to score When They See Us?
I believe it was a day or two after my first meeting with Ava. That being said, I remember that initial call even more. I’ve been such a fan of hers for a while, and I immediately felt excited and honored by her reaching out in the first place.
How long does it normally take to create a score for projects like When They See Us and Green Book?
It ultimately depends on how much time we have in the post-production schedule, but I had about three months to work on When They See Us, and about the same for Green Book — although the latter, I came on board much earlier for the pre-records and began writing themes early on.
What advice do you have for others looking to do what you do?
LOVE your craft and constantly push yourself to evolve.