Unlike the typical biographical films about Elvis, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and others, Maestro stands out as a refreshing passion project from an actor and director who is unafraid to push the boundaries of form and structure. By portraying composer Leonard Bernstein as a charming yet self-centered individual with a confident smile and open bisexuality, Maestro takes a bold and nuanced approach to showcasing the relatable and imperfect traits of a genius, elevating the film beyond traditional biopics.
Moreover, it leaves us with a desire for further explorations of musicians portrayed by dedicated actors. In Maestro, Cooper not only delivers his most exceptional performance yet, but also showcases his skills as an actor, writer, and director. In light of this, we propose five other musicians who are worthy of having their narratives shared.
Eartha Kitt was not an ordinary singer-actor. She had a powerful and seductive voice, appearing in the musical Carib Song and topping the charts with popular songs like C’est Si Bon and Santa Baby. Her portrayal of Catwoman on the 1967 TV show Batman was iconic and redefined the image of a feline femme fatale for an entire generation. Even Orson Welles praised her as the “most exciting woman in the world.” She was versatile, effortlessly shifting from a Broadway seductress to a sultry songstress to Batman’s coolest enemy. As a black icon, she thrived in an era where few of her background were given the opportunity to succeed.
Suggested star: Zendaya. Suggested director: Barry Jenkins
Saul Williams is a highly influential poet and rapper in the 21st century who has been recognized for his avant-garde approach to rap music, pushing it into the mainstream. He addresses taboo topics and contradictions within the music industry and popular culture. One potential subject for a biopic could be Williams’s 2007 album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, which served as a precursor to the blending of punk, noise, and hip-hop seen in artists like Kodak Black and Lil Uzi Vert. Williams’s daring choices in the mid-2000s have greatly influenced the modern sound and ethos of hip-hop. His queer identity, outspokenness on social issues, and refusal to conform to traditional hip-hop norms make him an ideal artist to be celebrated.
Suggested star: LaKeith Stanfield. Suggested director: Boots Riley
Cave’s wispy slink of a build, dapper three-piece suits and exploding tussle of hair, distil the punk spirit of the singer-songwriter’s career, from the early days in post-punk band the Birthday Party to his current work as a film composer (with Warren Ellis) for titles such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Road, and Hell or High Water.
Suggested star: Ben Whishaw. Suggested director: Anton Corbijn
In the past, there have been several biographical films made about popular hip-hop artists from the 1990s, such as Notorious BIG and NWA. However, it is important for Aaliyah’s story to be told on the larger screen. Aaliyah passed away in a tragic plane crash in 2001 at the young age of 22, but during her short life, she also pursued acting and starred in notable movies like Queen of the Damned and Romeo Must Die. A biopic would be a powerful way to showcase Aaliyah’s determination and ideals, as well as shed light on her controversial marriage to R Kelly when she was only 15 years old.
Suggested star: Teyana Taylor. Suggested director: Julia Ducournau
Cooper has revived orchestral music as a potential form of art for adaptation. It may be beneficial to push boundaries even further. Glass, a prominent figure in the 1970s and 1980s New York avant-garde music scene, was known for collaborating with painters, conceptual artists, and writers. Although not as renowned as Bernstein, Glass has had a significant impact on composition in the US for the past half-century. Glass and Bernstein represent opposite ends of the classical spectrum: Bernstein’s scores are lively and suitable for choreographed dance, while Glass’s work is best experienced with closed eyes and an open mind. Glass’s pieces often play with concepts of time, repetition, and performance, leaving as much unsaid as said, as seen in his opera Einstein on the Beach and film scores for The Hours and Koyaanisqatsi.
Suggested star: Adrien Brody. Suggested director: Julian Schnabel