WENDELL & WILD pays homage to the legends and lovers of black punk rock past and present
Wendell and savage takes stop motion animation in a new and exciting direction. Henry Selick’s film starring Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Lyric Ross, Angela Bassett, Ving Rhames, and more, follows the bond between Wendell and Wild, two demon brothers with a dream, and Kat, a teenage girl who can summon demons. Unlike many stop-motion films, most Wendell and savageThe characters of are not white, including Kat. She is a black girl with green hair and wearing a large boombox with punk rock music coming out of her eye speaker. Kat’s love of punk music is an essential part of her arc that shapes her personality and connects to her past. And, as Selick reveals during a special presentation for Wendell and savagehis ties to the black punk rock/alternative scene led to his inclusion in Kat’s story.
Interestingly, Kat wasn’t meant to be the main protagonist. Selick originally envisioned that his teaching nun, Sister Helley (Bassett), would take on this role. Kat and fellow student Raoul (Sam Zelaya) would be his assistants of sorts. However, Peele himself said Kat’s story should take center stage. Selick’s “mood board” for the character of Kat features a wide variety of black punk rock bands from the past. This epic roster includes the late Poly Styrene and her X-Ray group Spex and the DC-based collective Bad Brains.
“[Afropunk is] cultural, fashion and musical,” says Selick. “…Before Afropunk, there was Fishbone. There were actually several black punk bands. The Fishbone was punk, ska, funk. But I ended up meeting these guys who still play. And we have one of their songs in the movie. They still play today, but I met them in the 1980s. And I wrote and directed a music video for one of their songs called Party at Ground Zero… And then there’s all those other pioneers of the time, some of which are forgotten, others which we remember, especially with the AfroPunk movement, we remember them. But there were bands, you know, Death, Pure Hell. The Brat, which was a Chicano band, actually, in LA Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex. Bad brains. Fish bone.”
As is the case with many black innovators, some of these groups are not sufficiently recognized for their influence. This is the case of Styrene, a pioneer of black British punk who rose to fame with X-Ray Spex in the late 1970s. She was a clear influence on future artists like Fefe Dobson, FKA twigs, Solange Knowles, and many others. So it’s extremely exciting to see Wendell and savage pays homage to the pioneers and tips its hat to the modern afropunk scene. Selick worked with his editor Mandy Hutchings as well as Monkeypaw Productions producer Win Rosenfeld to get build insights and information. Wendell and savagethe soundtrack of with an array of punk rock tracks.
“…It was just, you know, ‘Who is Kat now and who is her father?’ And build that bridge, acoustically,” he says. “…Win Rosenfeld suggested this Fishbone song, Ma and Pa, which we hear at the very beginning of the film. And so, with that in place, then you’re kind of, well, what else works with that? Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, it was very complementary to that. And it was complementary to that. And then, we also worked with more modern groups. Like, there’s this band called Big Joanie in England. They are simply wonderful. They are simply amazing. And that’s something our editor suggested.
Most of the inspirational photos we’ve seen were of women and women at events like AfroPunk Festival, with colorful braids, Afros and locs, ripped clothes, piercings and impeccably stylish outfits. It’s pretty clear and exciting to see the two influences on Kat. Like the nerdy black player we had in the street of fear trilogy with Josh, we need more varied portrayals of Blackness in entertainment. “I was just bowled over by the incredible creativity and beauty of certain looks, costumes and attitudes,” Selick said. “And it’s, you know, it’s a foreign band. It was never a mainstream thing, and it really spoke to me and Jordan.
In Wendell and savage, Kat’s father is a fan of Black punk rock music who adores his daughter. Years after a traumatic event, Kat finds herself at the wealthy Rust Bank Catholic girls’ boarding school thanks to a special grant. She has just been released from a juvenile detention center and, as a parting “gift”, she receives her father’s boombox and a mixtape. Kat makes her mark immediately upon arriving, ripping off her uniform to suit her style and strutting down the hall blasting her music at full blast.
In a place and a world that wants black girls and women to go unseen or fit into a very stereotypical box of who they think we are, Kat is unapologetically herself. In a sense, Kat’s music in Wendell and savage is also a shield between her and this strange space full of people she doesn’t know and trust. The tunes she plays retain that deep connection to her father, providing a bit of catharsis to soothe her anxiety and pain.
In the trailer, we only get a snippet of Kat with her beloved boombox. However, the clip sets up some ominous events, warning us (and Kat) to be careful what we wish for. It remains to be seen where his trip will go. But one thing is certain: music is Kat’s solace in the midst of this crazy adventure.
Wendell and savage hits Netflix on October 28.