Composer Kris Bowers on the Urgency to Tell the Story of 'When They See Us'

When they See Us Inset Kris Bowers - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Netflix; Getty Images

Kris Bowers, the Emmy nominated composer of Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, is featured in a new episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Behind the Screen.

The Netflix series, which looks at the wrongful convictions of the Exonerated Five in the 1989 Central Park jogging case, was nominated in categories including outstanding limited series, direction for DuVernay and one for Kris Bowers’ score.

Bowers said after watching the first episode he knew he wanted to compose the score. "It was so heartbreaking and difficult to watch and gut-wrenching, but it also makes me feel how important it was and how urgent it was," he explained. 

Bowers added, "The moment of the verdict was one of the hardest cues to get right for Ava because she just wanted it to feel unbelievable. ... It takes a left turn and starts to sound like a cacophony of madness."

The composer said he's attracted to projects that have "some social or social justice connotation." "I've also been attracted to artists that had something to say with their work. ... I think art is supposed to hold a mirror to society and challenge us."

He adds that with the project, he hopes people will "continue to show these five exonerated men love." "Seeing them talk about their experience, it's so heartbreaking and the filmmakers and cast and crew tried to pour as much love as possible into the project." 

"They are not the only ones who have had this experience," Bowers continues. "There are so many examples of this in the world, and in general the prison system is so problematic. ... I hope that it also causes people to think about that and ways they might be able to help fix or challenge that."

The musician and composer previously scored the Best Picture Oscar-winning film Green Book. He was also Mahershala Ali’s piano teacher for the film, and even stood in for the actor during some of the musical performances. "He was so dedicated," said Bowers of Ali.

Hosted by THR tech editor Carolyn Giardina, Behind the Screen features directors, cinematographers, composers and other artists behind the making of motion pictures and episodic series. During the next few weeks, the series will include discussions with Creative Arts Emmy nominees.

Hear it all below on Behind the Screen — and be sure to subscribe to the podcast to never miss an exciting episode.