The Harder They Fall (
Director Jeymes Samuel
Starring Jonathan Majors Idris Elba Zazie Beetz Regina King Delroy Lindo Lakeith Stanfield & many more...
Streaming on Netflix
At that notorious crossroads in time, the end of the 1960s, the western movie genre was being wrestled away from the Marlboro-man, John Wayne cliche of bow legged vanilla-and-KKK styling that brought epic holocausts of dead Native Americans and the occasional appearance by an obliging Black woman as the slave/servant, happy to wash out her mistress’s undies or her master’s bullet wounds with nary a thought for herself.
The change introduced hippies to the west. Thoughtful gunslingers, unlikely heroes and a certain amount of realism when it came to hair and denim and hat-wear. But still and, pretty much ever since, the idea of a Black cowboy hero was seldom brought to the screen. We had 1972’s Buck and the Preacher, starring Sydney Poitier. And of course there was Blazing Saddles that understood the unlikely situation of a Black western hero (in the shape of Cleavon Little) enough to use it as pretty much the central premise of the comedy. The Harder They Fall is the feast at the end of the famine.
Londoner, director Jeymes Samuel hooked up with Jay Z as producer to make this Netflix extravaganza as a deliberate counterweight to decades of dis-inclusion. There are estimates that Black men and occasionally women made up around thirty percent of the ‘cowboys’ during the 19th century, whether as slaves or subsequent to freedom. So that’s a heavy load, as there’ve been a shit load of westerns made, ever since DW Griffith rewrote the KKK as heroes in the first serious Hollywood western, Birth of a Nation in 1915 Black people have been either non-existant or caricatures in the genre.
The Harder They Fall, being a statement more than a historical document is probably just as inaccurate as any other Hollywood western. The shooting abilities and the consequent carnage, the miraculous recovery from intense beatings, the pitch-perfect singing by the ensemble in a saloon, none of it looks possible or realistic. The plot, also, could have been slapped together from any number of ten dime novels or the imaginations of young boys growing up in west London. But that doesn’t matter. Did Morricone’s twanging electric guitars sound any more authentic as they tracked Clint Eastwood than THTF’s hiphop and dancehall/reggae soundtrack? Was Randolph Scott’s neat short back and sides genuinely Victorian any more than the perfectly styled ‘fro worn by Regina King here? Were westerns of old any less entertaining because they just weren’t dirty, or ignorant enough, because the actresses always dressed with a nod to the decade the film was made in? Nope and neither is this film.
Riding like a cantering horse thief across the rocks and sand of Nevada (?), this western takes you through one ridiculous scenario to another, expertly tweaking the senses, allowing just enough action to keep it juicy, just enough revenge and expectation to keep you onside. You know the baddy will die. You know there will be a twist on the level of a Bergerac episode at the climax. You know which of the interesting side kicks will be shot and you know which one won’t. It doesn’t matter. The enjoyment is in the music-promo eye candy and the music sync and in the knowledge that this film actually exists.
Is it time, finally, for there to be a stupid, violent western that only, mainly features a Black cast and for it to exist in its own right as stupid and violent and improbable. Hell, yeah!
The Harder They Fall streaming on Netflix now
Tim London is a musician, music producer and writer. Originally from a New Town in Essex he is at home amidst concrete and grand plans for the working class. Tim's latest thriller, Smith, is available now. Find out more at timothylondon.com
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