Jeymes Samuel: ‘Movie westerns have lied to us our whole lives’

And then the buildings of New Orleans. The story is fiction but the people existed. Can you talk a bit about your visual influences and the set design? It’s already like a score for Westerns [begins to make Dub noises]. I shot a proof of concept short film called They Die by Dawn, which was my initial foray into the Old West. My set decorator is a man called Martin Whist. I’m in love with pretty much everything this guy does, so it was a joy to work with him. Samuel: The idea for the story came to me about 10 years ago. And then I’ll go to Fela Kuti and afrobeat, to the Fisk Jubilee Singers. I would utilise all of these sounds and genres to create one sonic landscape because they’re all Black expression. In my movies there’ll be cinematic repercussions. Cause The Harder They Fall is a unique experience. Then I just put all the ones I found together like The Avengers. He did a revision just to have additional eyes on the structure. Could you talk about the soundtrack? I wanted to utilise reggae because dub and its origins are really close to Western music. You fall in love with the aesthetic and you fall in love with the stories, but it’s the telling of them that you have a problem with. Those people are unimaginative and just in love with the word and the opportunity to exploit. Black people have a setting in us called ‘auto erase’; women have it too. I don’t believe there was ever a time where you could just run up and call us a ‘bunch of N-words’ and we’d wilfully accept it. That’s why in The Harder They Fall you don’t hear the N-word once. How did you reconciled these depictions with your love for the genre? Hiring someone like Martin was amazing, he just understood the movie. Whatever you’re doing, obey your crazy. I wrote a few drafts of it, myself and Jay-Z were just working and putting it together. Slavery was abolished in the 1860s so there were decades-worth of Black people in the Old West. It’s gully, it’s menacing, the two go hand in hand. Then in the last stretch I brought in writer Boaz Yakin, he’s a friend of mine. Jeymes Samuel: ‘Movie westerns have lied to us our whole lives’
The singer-songwriter known as The Bullitts slinks into the role of filmmaker with his super fun revisionist western, The Harder They Fall.Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall represents the Old West in a bold and dynamic debut feature that follows Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) as he seeks revenge on Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) and his formidable gang. Co-produced by Shawn Carter and boasting an all-star cast of Regina King, Lakeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo and Zazie Beetz, here the director talks about his love for the genre and the necessity to reimagine our approach to period cinema. With westerns we’ll be acutely aware of how we’re being treated in them, just like with most genres. Since I was a kid people would argue with me for years that Black Cowboys didn’t exist, so I would do a lot of research on it. Obey your crazy, and it will take you to where you need to go. Visually I was inspired by two things: the painter Kadir Nelson – his colour palette informed what I wanted to do with this movie. Native Americans weren’t circling the wagons of white people – it didn’t happen. When you have a crazy thought you have it because you can see it, no one else can. And to show women characters in positions of weakness and people of colour as subservient. If you listen to Dub at its foundations, it’s like a soundtrack. Like you watch things and automatically erase the insults as you go. There’s a scene where Wiley Escoe gets beaten down, so I wrote a song styled like an old Negro spiritual called ‘Do Unto Others’ and when he’s lying on the floor, that particular song turns into an afrobeat version of the theme, The Harder They Fall [starts singing ‘Wahala they come, Wahala they come’]. The rules are exactly what Ennio Morricone was following with Sergio Leone. Wahala is a Nigerian word for drama. LWLies: How did the project start? Well, I love cinema and I love Old West westerns, but we’ve been lied to our whole lives. You literally kill it in its tracks. Black people were enslaved, not slaves, and it’s a big difference. But if we don’t watch those movies there’ll be hardly any cinema we can watch. Why a western for your debut feature? If you’re making a period piece, why does it mean we have to be subservient? I didn’t really have cinematography references for my mood board. I composed the score myself. And for all the people that were enslaved, there were always revolts, which is why so many of us died! Published 7 Oct 2021

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