The Unapologetically (Not) Black Western
Jeymes Samuel’s riveting new film ‘The Harder They Fall’ refuses to acknowledge race, but its Blackness is difficult to ignore. (Zero spoilers ahead.)
Throughout his recent interview with GQ, Jeymes Samuel, director and executive producer of the new Netflix film The Harder They Fall, doggedly emphasized that although his first feature is a western with an all-Black cast, it’s not a Black western.
“If Rio Bravo is not a White western and Unforgiven is not a White western, then The Harder They Fall is not a Black western,” said Samuel, who before his filmmaking debut was known most as a songwriter, music producer, and collaborator to Jay-Z and Jay Electronica (he also happens to be the younger brother of singer Seal).
Today, Samuel is one of Hollywood’s brightest new visionaries. Somewhat of a mad scientist, he not only produced the film, but also wrote the entire score using both certified and future musical legends as his vessels. Visually, The Harder They Fall is close to cinematic perfection. The action explodes so deliciously in technicolor that at times the film feels like a two-hour fireworks exhibit. The diamond in Samuel’s directing is rhythm. The fact that the 42-year-old is a trained musician who’s made music videos since an adolescent is apparent in many of his scenes. For example, pay attention to the choreography in the Rufus Buck gang’s train robbery; the bandits’ synchronized response to their gang leaders Cherokee Bill, Trudy Smith, and Buck (played sterling by Lakeith Stanfield, Regina King, and Idris Elba). Alvin Ailey would be proud.
It’s Samuel’s skill sets that position him to make race a non-factor in his creations. He feels that his exceptional eyes and ears along with a constellation of Black Hollywood’s best are enough for THTF to be revered in the same light as Scorsese’s The Departed, a mob flick with an A-List ensemble that wasn’t primarily White nor Italian (as opposed to The Godfather). To Samuel’s point, The Harder They Fall is colorblind from its log line — Gunning for revenge, outlaw Nat Love saddles up with his gang to take down enemy Rufus Buck, a ruthless crime boss who just got sprung from prison — to plot. The film serves up a buffet of…