For his first feature film, director Jeymes Samuel strikes a blow with The Harder They Fall. He gives a facelift to a genre that is a little in decline and signs a political film without ever talking about it. Meet.
Available on Netflix since November 3, The Harder They Fall – the first production of Jeymes Samuel – is a western that dusted off the genre. With its cast composed mostly of black actors, it gives an unprecedented representation of westerns which until then have confined African-American characters to secondary roles.
AlloCiné: how did you come up with the idea of making a western with a 100% black cast?
Jeymes Samuel : I’ve always loved westerns all my life. I like cinema. I like everything in the cinema. And westerns have always been my favorite genre, but they never showed a broad view of what the Old West was like. They were very limited and rather centered on white males. Beyond this prism, we saw nothing. Women were always submissive to men, and people of color were always treated as less than nothing or submissive. And if there was a black person in a western, you had to explain why that person is in this story.
For example, he was a former slave. It belonged to Mr Johnson … And yet decades have passed in the history of the Old West after slavery. Even during slavery, one in four cowboys was black. So all of my inspiration for making my first feature film was to put forward something else and insert it into the culture. To show that women existed at that time. And they weren’t weak characters. And men of all colors existed then, and they were not weak characters. They were as strong as anyone else.
And they were just as bossy as anyone else. And they were just as stylish. So, so that people could watch this movie and not dispute the fact that we existed in this particular place in time, I only chose characters that really did exist. Rufus Buck, Nat Love, Cherokee Bill, Gertrude Smith, Stagecoach Mary, Jim Beckwourth, Wiley Escoe, Bass Reeves, Bill Pickett, Cuffee Williams. All of these characters really existed. So you can watch this movie and then do your research and find out who these people were. It’s a fictional story, but with real characters just to give a bigger take and a bit of flair to what used to be considered the Old West.
What was the biggest challenge for you in making this film?
Incidentally, the biggest challenge in making this film was this new character who came along. It was the Covid-19, the pandemic, and it wasn’t even a challenge. It was literally a war.
We shot in the eye of the coronavirus. And that was crazy. We’re talking about Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Well, Murphy died from Covid-19 and Covid-19 took over and gave us the greatest challenge that there has ever been in the history of cinema. If you don’t have a mask, you can grab something and die. It’s crazy ! And I had to make a film, staying 2 meters from the casting… And see how lively I am! But it was my first feature film, so I had so much energy and so much essence. I’m like a charged Tesla forever.
So I thought to myself: what are the rules? What is the disease? How far should I stand? Tell me what to do and let me make the movie I want to make because the culture needs it. And I need it.
Why did you decide to avoid the issue of racism in the film?
Because every time there are blacks in a period film, it talks about racism. I wasn’t going to do it too. Hollywood has always shown us as these third-class citizens, through this racial lens. This is simply not true. Obviously, racism existed. But black people weren’t … At no time in history have we walked in the streets and been insulted 177 times. I didn’t want to show that in this movie. It’s The Harder They Fall. These people did not respond to that sort of thing. And if you venture to say it, you will meet an untimely end. (he smiles)
And … For me, it’s all the nicer that everyone can watch this movie and not hear the word “Negro” and not have considerations like: Oh these people are black and these people are of that color, etc. I wanted to kind of turn everything upside down and tell you a great story.
Do you think times have changed and that we can now make these films for the general public?
Yes, people are ready to see movies. They are ready to see stories. And there is no black western because there is no white western. There is no real film noir. The only film noir I know of is if the celluloid you get is black. Okay, that’s film noir. How to shoot on black film? It’s just a movie with colored characters… And that’s all I wanted to see.
I love the movie The Man from the Lost Valleys, and there are no blacks in it. It’s not a white western. If you and I are going to see The High Plains Man tomorrow, a Clint Eastwood movie, we’re just going to watch a western. This is The Harder They Fall. There are blacks in it. The world is ready and has always been ready for great stories. Even when people say they don’t like westerns. Well I’m saying you love westerns, you just haven’t been given the right nutrition and vitamins that you need for those westerns in particular.
Let me give you a different point of view and let me show you people. See Regina King as Trudy Smith. See Idris Elba as Rufus Buck. Lakeith Stanfield in Cherokee Bill’s, and tell me you don’t like westerns. We just want to see great movies and great stories. And if they don’t give them to us, we have to create them. I introduce myself: Jeymes Samuel (smiling again).