For so many years when I’d imagine cowboys, I’d clearly see the hat, the boots, and a gun. My mom would have “Walker, Texas Ranger” or “Gunsmoke” playing in the background, so that was what my interpretation of a cowboy was; and let’s not forget Woody from Toy Story. It’s clear now though how much representation lacked in not only this film/TV genre, but also how little Black history we are taught outside of our trauma. Now, with all the resources and information available we’re able to see more stories and recreations of Black people in historic roles that don’t include stereotypes or reminisce on pain. London born producer and filmmaker Jeymes Samuels is incorporating the narrative of Black cowboys in his first feature film, The Harder They Fall. The film premiered earlier this month, exclusively on Netflix and has since received an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. In an interview with Hot 97, Samuels was asked about his interest in westerns and had this to say, “I grew up loving everything about them…but they were so narrow in the viewpoint they showed us, they rifle scope that they would shoot the western through was so narrow, I’d be like ‘where are all the women of substance? As opposed to every single woman in the West who’s subservient or a prostitute. Where’s the people of color?” He continued in explaining the timeline gap between the emancipation proclamation and the “era of the Wild West” and how they’re must have been Black people and other people of color during this time, so he began his own research. An interesting point made by Samuels was that Hollywood “created and reappropriated” this idea of what cowboys were and how he feels that with this film he’s given a more realistic view of the West with Black people, POC, and women.
The film is star studded with a cast featuring Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Regina King, and Zazie Beetz. The story follows Nat Love and his gang on a journey for revenge and revelation concerning the antagonist Rufus Buck, played by Elba. As someone who isn’t the savviest within this genre, I knew that this was still a must see. Samuels wears multiple hats on this project, serving as director, co-writer alongside Boaz Yankin (Safe, Remember the Titans), and co-producer alongside Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z)! This is Samuels’ first feature film following his 2013 short film “They Die By Dawn” is another western centered around Black characters and features actors such as Nate Parker, the late Michael K. Williams, and Rosario Dawson.
In his interview he also spoke about how his love for music and film began when he was young. “There were always instruments in the house, but my mom bought me a Super 8 camera when I was seven…and then a Bolex 16mm when I was 13…but I would always put my own music behind it, and score while I was writing, so they were basically the same thing.”
Taking all this into account it’s easily said that these movies are necessary for several reasons, historical accuracy and representation only being two. The most enjoyable aspect of this film to me was in fact the writing. In some instances, it was almost Shakespearean. The pacing and tone of the film flowed well through every scene and the acting was excellent, as if anything less would be expected. This film kept the audience engaged until the very end outside of the action scenes, the drama and storytelling were also just as captivating.
With films like this and Elba’s other recent feature, Concrete Cowboys, also on Netflix, this idea of a revival for Black cowboys is becoming increasingly popular. Jeymes Samuels and his productions are important to tell the stories accurately so that our history and our culture becomes more than the trauma that has always shown and is not erased any more than it already has been.
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