Motion Picture Academy & Mercury Studios Announce Inaugural Participants in Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in partnership with Mercury Studios, have announced the inaugural participants in the Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative, a one-year career development program for Black British musicians interested in composing music for film. Those chosen are Peter Edwards, a composer, musical director and pianist who has been working in the London jazz scene for 12 years, and Oleta Haffner, a London-based composer who writes music for animated short films and theater productions. The program aims to foster broader representation in film music composition.

The Academy and Mercury Studios hosted an event celebrating Edwards and Haffner at Abbey Road Studios in London on Thursday Oct. 6. Academy CEO Bill Kramer and president Janet Yang welcomed guests, Academy executive vice president of impact and inclusion Jeanell English spoke about the importance of the Academy’s talent and development programs, and Academy member Misan Sagay (writers branch) reflected on the Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative and its goals.


Academy members Gary Yershon and Nainita Desai (music branch), who spearheaded the creation of the program with Sagay, then joined composers Segun Akinola and Bankey Ojo, along with Natasha Baldwin, executive vice president, classics and screen at Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), for a panel discussion.

Throughout the year, Edwards and Haffner 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. They also 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 it.  

The composition work will be funded by two grants from Universal Music Group’s (UMG) Decca Records and Mercury Studios, a full-service, global production film and television studio. Additional programming and support will be provided by UMG’s Abbey Road Studios. Gwangwa, who died in January 2021 at age 83, was a prominent South African jazz musician, songwriter and producer for four decades. He received Oscar nominations for best original score and best original song for his work, with George Fenton, on Cry Freedom (1987).

For more information on the Jonas Gwangwa Music Composition Initiative, visit this page at the Academy’s website.

Paul Grein