Wendell & Wild is taking stop-motion animation in a fresh and exciting direction. The Henry Selick film starring Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Lyric Ross, Angela Bassett, Ving Rhames, and more, follows the connection between Wendell and Wild, two demon brothers with a dream, and Kat, a teenager who can summon demons. Unlike many stop-motion films, most of Wendell & Wild’s characters are not white, including Kat. She’s a Black girl rocking green hair and carrying a large boombox with punk rock blasting from its eyeball speaker. Kat’s punk music love is a vital part of her arc that shapes her persona and connects to her past. And, as Selick reveals during a special presentation for Wendell & Wild, his ties to the Black punk rock/alternative scene led to its integration into Kat’s story.
Interestingly, Kat wasn’t supposed to be the main protagonist. Selick originally envisioned that her nun teacher Sister Helley (Bassett), would take that role. Kat and another student Raoul (Sam Zelaya) would be her assistants of sorts. However, Peele himself said that Kat’s story should take center stage. Selick’s “mood board” for Kat’s character features a wide variety of Black punk rock bands from the past. This epic list includes the late, great Poly Styrene and her band X-Ray Spex and the D.C.-based collective Bad Brains.
“[Afropunk is] cultural, fashion, and musical,” says Selick. “… Before Afropunk, there was Fishbone. There was actually several black punk bands. The Fishbone was punk, ska, funk. But I ended up meeting those guys who are still performing. And we have one of their songs in the film. They’re still performing now, but I met them in the 1980s. And I wrote and directed a music video of one of their songs called Party at Ground Zero… And then there’s all these other pioneers of the time that some are forgotten, some are remembered, especially with the AfroPunk movement, they’re remembered. But there was bands, you know, Death, Pure Hell. The Brat, which was a Chicano band, actually, in L.A. Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex. Bad Brains. Fishbone.”
As is the case with many Black innovators, some of these bands do not get proper recognition for their influence. This is the case with Styrene, a Black British punk pioneer who rose to fame with X-Ray Spex in the late 1970s. She’s a clear influence on future artists like Fefe Dobson, FKA twigs, Solange Knowles, and more. So, it is extremely exciting to see Wendell & Wild honor trailblazers and tip its hat to the modern Afropunk scene. Selick worked with his editor Mandy Hutchings as well as Monkeypaw Productions producer Win Rosenfeld to gain input and insight into building Wendell & Wild‘s soundtrack with an array of punk rock tunes.
“…It was just, you know, ‘Who’s Kat now and who is her dad?’ And building that bridge, sonically,” he affirms. “…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 sort of like, well, what’s something else that works with that? Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, she was very complementary to that. And this was complementary to that. And then, we also worked with more modern bands. Like, there’s this group called Big Joanie out of England. They’re just wonderful. They’re just amazing. And that was something that our editor suggested.”
Many of the inspiration-photos we saw came from women and femmes at events like AfroPunk Festival, complete with colorful braids, Afros, and locs, ripped clothing, piercings, and impeccably stylish outfits. It’s pretty clear and exciting to see both influences on Kat. Like the nerdy Black gamer guy we got in the Fear Street trilogy with Josh, we need more varied depictions of Blackness in entertainment. “I just was floored by how insanely creative and beautiful some of the looks and costumes and attitudes are,” said Selick. “And it’s, you know, it’s an outsider group. It’s never been a mainstream thing, and that really spoke to me and to Jordan.”
In Wendell & Wild, Kat’s father is a Black punk rock music fan who adores his daughter. Years after a traumatic event, Kat ends up at the wealthy Rust Bank Catholic boarding school for girls on a special grant. She’s fresh out of a juvenile detention center and, as a parting “gift,” she gets her father’s boombox and a mixtape. Kat makes her mark immediately after arriving, ripping up her uniform to fit her style and strutting down the hallway blasting her music loud.
In a place and world that wants Black girls and women to not be seen or fit into a very stereotypical box of what they think we are, Kat is unapologetically herself. In a sense, Kat’s music in Wendell & Wild is also a shield between her and this strange space full of people she doesn’t know nor trust. The tunes she plays keep that profound connection to her father, offering 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 does set up some ominous happenings, warning us (and Kat) to be careful what we wish for. It remains to be seen where her journey will go. But one thing is for sure—music is Kat’s solace in the midst of this wild adventure.
Wendell & Wild hits Netflix on October 28.