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Academy Seeks to Boost Black British Film Composers Through Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in partnership with Mercury Studios, announced the launch of the Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative on Thursday (July 7). The one-year career development program is designed for Black British musicians interested in composing music for film. The program will provide real-world experience, one-on-one mentorship and networking opportunities, beginning in October.

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Gwangwa, who died in January 2021 at age 83, was a prominent South African jazz musician and composer.

Part of the Academy’s ongoing Aperture 2025 global outreach and engagement efforts, the Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative aims to foster broader representation in film music composition, with an emphasis on Black British talent. Its creation was spearheaded by U.K.-based Academy members Nainita Desai and Gary Yershon (both from the music branch) and Misan Sagay (from the writers branch).

“This initiative seeks to correct an imbalance,” said Desai, Yershon and Sagay in a statement. “In contrast to the major contributions Black musicians are making to the music industry in the U.K., their presence in the U.K. film industry is significantly lacking. Through this program, we seek to build community amongst Black artists in the U.K. by highlighting opportunities to bridge film and music careers.”

The program is open to U.K.-based Black artists and composers with at least three years of work experience as a musician. Two participants, selected through an application process, will receive access to Academy members across various branches in order to gain an understanding of the filmmaking process; one-on-one mentorship with a member of the Academy’s music branch to learn about the practical aspects of composing for film; access to Academy events and screenings in London; and introductions to leading practitioners from all areas of film music, among other mentorship programming.

Participants will be matched with a filmmaker who is in the process of making a short film and will be given the opportunity to compose music for the film. The composition work will be funded by two grants from Universal Music Group’s Mercury Studios, a full-service, global production film and television studio, and Decca Records. Additional programming and support will be provided by Abbey Road Studios.

Gwangwa received Oscar nominations for best original score and best original song, in tandem with George Fenton, for Cry Freedom (1987). It was just the fourth time in Oscar history that a Black composer was nominated for best original score and best original song in the same year. Quincy Jones achieved the feat twice (in 1967 and 1985); Isaac Hayes had done it once (in 1971).

Applications for the Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative are currently open. For more information visit Oscars.org.




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