It was a star-studded night at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 13th. In attendance were director Jeymes Samuel, Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Deon Cole, producer Jay-Z, and many more.
When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is being released from prison he rounds up his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge. Those riding with him in this assured, righteously new school Western include his former love Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), his right and left-hand men — hot-tempered Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and fast drawing Jim Beckwourth (R.J. Cyler)—and a surprising adversary-turned-ally. Rufus Buck has his own fearsome crew, including “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield), and they are not a group that knows how to lose.
The Harder They Fall director, writer, producer Jeymes Samuel grew up watching Westerns. But he knew something wasn’t quite right about these beloved fables. These visions framed hardscrabble men like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, battling the elements and nefarious types, against gorgeous backdrops that reached to the horizon but something was always missing. Or more precisely: someones.
“Traditionally in Hollywood westerns, Black people, Chinese people, other people of color, and women were always shown as subservient,” says Samuel.
The westerns Samuel, and the world, grew up on reflected a Hollywood not ready to embrace the truth of the Old West, and how it was settled in the mid-1800s. When the institution of slavery was abolished, and the formerly enslaved flocked West in search of a better life and a fresh start, many of them became Cowboys and a third of them were Black. Many were of other races and, it turns out as history tells us, women could be just as hardscrabble as any John Wayne.
“I loved Westerns so much growing up that when they invented Google I began to research all these great characters that we never got to learn about through movies,” says Samuel.
He became obsessed with the real-life characters of the Old West, Black men, and women who risked their lives every day for their own dreams.
Being a storyteller, he gathered these real people — who all lived in different places in the West
at different times throughout the 19th century— and weaved their essence and purpose into a screenplay. This original script, peppered with curated music from Samuel and fellow producer Shawn Carter, aka legendary rapper-mogul JAY-Z, and given a strategic assist by producer James Lassiter, it became The Harder They Fall.
“Only Jeymes could have directed this,” says Lassiter. “Because from top to bottom, he conceived everything. He knew how he wanted it to look, he knew how he wanted music integrated, he had very specific ideas regarding casting and these things were all very thought out.” Lassiter was not as well-versed in the Western genre, but he believed in Jeymes. “When I heard Jeymes’ take on this revenge story I knew it was much more than a single genre story.”