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The Harder They Fall’s Director Explains Why He Wanted To Make A Black Western

The cast of The Harder They Fall
(Image credit: Netflix)

Hollywood is gradually starting to churn out more productions that showcase Black talent in fresh and compelling ways. In the past few years, we’ve seen more African American representation in the superhero and horror genres, along with others. At present, Netflix is set to deliver The Harder They Fall, a western featuring a predominantly Black cast. The movie, featuring massive names like Idris Elba, Regina King and Jonathan Majors, looks as though it could be a strong addition to the genre. Now, its director is opening up about why he was keen on making a Black western. 

Filmmaker Jeymes Samuel seems to have a very specific vision for his western drama, one that’s filled with human emotion and blood-soaked violence. As it so happens, this is a genre that he holds close to his heart. He recently explained that he was eager to make the film because he used to watch westerns with his mother. However, one thing he noticed is that the vast majority of them did not include Black actors in prominent roles:

Just on a shallow level, look how much swag is missing when you delete Black people from the narrative. Look what happened when they put Lando Calrissian in [The] Empire Strikes Back! Billy Dee Williams was amazing.

The director certainly made some fair points during his recent interview with The Guardian. There have been Black-led westerns over the years, though they’ve been few and far between. And the few that managed to become mainstream hits, like Blazing Saddles and Django Unchained were helmed by white directors and did not include mostly Black casts. With that in mind, The Harder They Fall is certainly a rarity and one that is sure to be appreciated by those craving more diversity when it comes to cinematic cowboys.

The Billy Dee Williams analogy is also fitting, given his impact on the Star Wars franchise. It’s true that George Lucas’ film series had already found a strong audience, thanks to its original 1977 installment. However, the inclusion of Lando Calrissian arguably helped open up the galaxy far, far away to a wider group of viewers. I personally know a number of veteran Black fans who were first drawn to the space saga back in the day after they saw that Williams (a pop culture icon) join the fray.

The upcoming Netflix movie actually won’t be the first time Jeymes Samuel has worked on a western. He previously directed 2013’s They Die by Dawn, which featured notable names like Rosario Dawson, Jesse Williams and the late, great Michael K. Williams. It’s likely that Samuel aimed to bring some of the same sensibilities from that movie to his latest project, while also bringing in some fresh elements. 

The Harder They Fall centers on historic cowboy Nat Love, played by Jonathan Majors, who seeks revenge for the murder of his parents. To do this, he reunites his old gang of other notable gunslingers, including Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) and Trudy Smith (Regina King). So far, the movie has received mostly positive reviews from critics. CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg had high praise for the direction and the performances. 

While there’s definitely still work to be done when it comes to representation for African Americans, this new project represents a solid step forward. It can definitely be said that we could certainly use more westerns, especially those featuring people of color. 

The Harder They Fall opens in theaters for a limited release on October 22 before it ultimately hits Netflix on November 3.

Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.