‘American Fiction’ Composer Laura Karpman On Oscar Nomination And Scoring “Tragedy And Deeply Felt Emotions”

Composer Laura Karpman received her first Oscar nomination on Tuesday for Amazon MGM Studios’ American Fiction in Music (Original Score).

In a call with Deadline on Tuesday morning, Karpman is giddy to claim that she might have possessed a little foresight that led to this Oscar reigning moment as the film picked up a total of four other Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Jeffrey Wright for Actor in a Leading Role, Sterling K. Brown for Actor in a Supporting Role and Cord Jefferson for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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“When I first saw [a cut of] American Fiction, I told Cord, Ben LeClair [producer] and Hilda [Rasula], the editor, that this was going to get an Oscar, that this was an awards film,” Karpman said. “So, I sent them a text that said, ‘I told you.’”

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Written and directed by Cord Jefferson, based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett, American Fiction straddles the line between drama and satire to depict social commentary on microaggression and pigeonholing of Black creatives in the publishing and film industry. To tell this story, the film centers on Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Wright), an intelligent and jaded author frustrated by the high-profit margins on Black entertainment that relies on discriminatory behaviors and tropes. But, in wanting to challenge the construct and prove his point about the bias for Black narratives that are more palatable for white consumers, he uses an alias to create a widely stereotypical book that accidentally gains him critical acclaim and notoriety. In addition to that, Monk is also tasked with caring for his ailing mother while trying to repair the frayed relationship with his brother Cliff (Brown).

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Karpman had to figure out how to mimic Monk’s complex relationships through music to tackle and depict some of these conflicting themes in the film. “The most important and radical theme in the film is the family story, and it’s radical because it shouldn’t be,” Karpman explained. “The idea behind the family theme was to have a beautiful melody that flows but is never together. Meaning there’ll always be two instruments playing [on a track], but they’re never quite playing together. For example, on the track “Brothers,” you hear guitar and piano, but if you listen, you’ll hear the sounds are not together. There are all these different emotions. The film is a satire, tragedy and deeply felt emotions that happen among the members of the family. So, the score had to track all of that, and while jazz is kind of the basic melodic and harmonic language, it also needs to live in the world of scoring in order to be successful.”

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Reflecting on her nomination, Karpman also discusses why she thinks people from all diverse backgrounds are so drawn to the primarily all-Black starring satire drama about race and identity.

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“They’re responding to having an important conversation that we [as a society] need to keep having,” she said. “Black people, brown people, queer people and as a queer woman myself… that’s the thing about the film, it has an important conversation about identity, about artistic identity, how you’re perceived and what assumptions people make. But Cord does it in such a magical way that we can laugh, cry, and have every human emotion while watching this magnificent film. I think it’s a page turn in American filmmaking.”

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Acknowledging Brown and Wright’s nominations for American Fiction, Karpman gave flowers to the cast and crew for their emotional portrayals. “I think we all did something extraordinary. I’m so glad that Sterling got recognized. I thought his portrayal of a gay man was fantastic, and Jeffrey, well, he’s Jeffrey,” she joked. “Everybody who worked on this film has been uplifted by this experience. Cord came and made a piece of art that we could do our best work on, and that is a gift.”

The 96th Academy Awards are set to take place at the Dolby Theatre on March 10.

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