Western films are notorious for violence, deserted landscapes, and….an all white cast. Luckily, Jeymes Samuel knew it was time for a new take on this popular genre of film. With an all black cast and unique spin on a classic plot, his first feature film, “The Harder They Fall” states what it is about right from the beginning.
“While the events in this story are fictional,” the title card reads “These. People. Existed.” Beginning the film with these words makes a point on the importance of Black Americans in history. No, this film is not a biopic. However, as the title card states, the film’s main characters are all based on real individuals with captivating stories.
The film begins with an anxiety-inducing scene of a boy, Nat Love, as he watches the murder of his parents by two men in the Rufus Buck Gang. Fast forward to sometime later, Love (Jonathan Majors) is a grown man who made it his mission to avenge his parent’s death. Love has his own gang, and with his partners Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler), he becomes a staunch outlaw out to get Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). With the violence and gore of many westerns, it’s often easy to avoid or forget about any instances of romance. However, once again, this film is one that diverts from the norm, and Love’s romance with Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) is an essential part of the film.
“The Harder They Fall” doesn’t quite get everything right. While casting any film can prove to be a challenge, this movie casts a group of talented black actors in a normally white-dominated genre of filmmaking. However, an all black cast does not equate to an unflawed choice in casting. Colorism takes center stage in “The Harder They Fall,” as many of the light-skinned actors are portraying real individuals who were dark-skinned. The erasure of color in film is common. Hollywood has a long history of not only creating more roles meant specifically for white actors, but when people of color are considered for roles, light-skinned actors seem to always get priority over dark-skinned actors. This film is a celebration of blackness and replacing real dark-skinned individuals with light-skinned actors does not authentically represent this celebration.
Still, every element of the actual film is both engrossing and amusing. The film zig zags from one plot point to another and perfectly captures the beauty of the west, making its cinematography even more of a reason to give it a watch. Imaginative and certainly comical, there’s never a moment of boredom. Somehow, each scene gets better than the next.
As a love letter to Black representation in movies, this film also accomplishes everything a western should: beautiful cinematography, an epic showdown, and frivolous gun-play. Not to mention, it also centers its narrative around the rich history and influence of black culture on a specific time period. With a film as refreshing as this one, Samuel is opening the path for more black-led films and a more authentic discussion on what it means to be a western.
“The Harder They Fall” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Cyna Mirzai