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‘The Harder They Fall’ Puts the Spotlight on Real-Life Figures Ignored by Westerns

‘The Harder They Fall’ Puts the Spotlight on Real-Life Figures Ignored by Westerns

The Harder They Fall director, writer, producer and composer Jeymes Samuel grew up watching Westerns. But he knew something wasn’t quite right about these beloved fables. These visions framed hardscrabble men like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, battling the elements and nefarious types, against gorgeous backdrops that reached to the horizon but something was always missing. Or more precisely: someones. 

“Traditionally in Hollywood westerns, Black people, Chinese people, other people of color, and women were always shown as subservient,” says Samuel. 

The westerns Samuel, and the world, grew up on reflected a Hollywood not ready to embrace the truth of the Old West, and how it was settled in the mid-1800s. When the institution of slavery was abolished, and the formerly enslaved flocked West in search of a better life and a fresh start, many of them became Cowboys and a third of them were Black. Many were of other races and, it turns out as history tells us, women could be just as hardscrabble as any John Wayne. 

“I loved Westerns so much growing up that when they invented Google I began to research all these great characters that we never got to learn about through movies,” says Samuel. 

He became obsessed with the real life characters of the Old West, Black men and women who risked their lives every day for their own dreams. 

Being a storyteller, he gathered these real people — who all lived in different places in the West at different times throughout the 19th century — and weaved their essence and purpose into a screenplay. This original script, peppered with curated music from Samuel and fellow producer Shawn Carter, aka legendary rapper-mogul JAY-Z, and given a strategic assist by producer James Lassiter, it became The Harder They Fall

The film, which marks Samuel’s feature film directorial debut, follows outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) who, when he discovers that his enemy (Idris Elba) is being released from prison, reunites his gang to seek revenge. The film also stars Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, RJ Cyler, Damon Wayans Jr., Deon Cole with Regina King.

“Only Jeymes could have directed this,” says Lassiter. “Because from top to bottom, he conceived everything. He knew how he wanted it to look, he knew how he wanted music integrated, he had very specific ideas regarding casting and these things were all very thought out.” 

When discussing his vision for the film, Samuel hopes that “The Harder They Fall will put something into our culture that has been missing forever, as most every character in this film is inspired by a character that really existed.

"After this movie, no one will ever say there were no people of color in the Old West. So we had to remember as we were making this movie: it would be fun to make but also a true historical statement. Black people, Asian people, all people of color and women deserve a film like this that is done on an epic scale." 

The Harder They Fall debuts Nov. 3 on Netflix.