With Idris Elba leading an impressive all-black cast and Jay-Z among the producers, the premiere of Netflix’s reimagined western The Harder They Fall opened the London Film Festival with a bang on Wednesday.
The film, a directorial debut for Londoner Jeymes Samuel, showcases an array of black talent portraying real-life historical characters from the Old West in a fictional plot. Samuel, who co-produced and co-wrote the original screenplay, left longtime friend Elba little choice but to play Rufus Buck.
“(It was) ‘you’re doing it’… we grew up together doing stupid shit and here we are making a Western,” Elba joked, as the pair discussed the film at a news conference with other cast and crew.
Samuel, also a singer-songwriter and music producer who worked with Jay-Z on tracks for The Great Gatsby in 2013, said collaborating again with the rap star reaffirmed that his talents go well beyond music. “The interesting thing is he’s super cine-literate,” the 42-year-old filmmaker said.
“People think (of) the name Jay-Z and they automatically assume… music,” he added, noting he was vastly knowledgeable about both Westerns and “film in general.”
Samuel said he landed a “dream cast” for The Harder They Fall which also includes actor-director Regina King as Buck’s sidekick, and Jonathan Majors as his rival outlaw. LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Edi Gathegi also star in a story of revenge on the plains of Texas.
The novice director, who grew up watching Westerns on British television, explained “the genre of the Old West was always alluring” but that he wanted to do more with it. “The scope that they showed those stories through was very narrow… women of all colours were always subservient. If you were a person of colour, you were less than human,” Samuel said.
Apart from three screenings at the London Film Festival and some showings in select US theatres, The Harder They Fall will get its global release on Netflix on November 3. The streaming platform is “the right place” for the highly cinematic film, according to co-producer James Lassiter, who persuaded Samuel of its virtues.
“Sometimes when you do a theatrical release, there are these built-in biases, like no one wants to see an all-black cast,” Lassiter said, noting “in certain territories they will tell the studios ‘this movie’s not for us’.”
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