Fresh from blowing open the London Film Festival with his irrepressible Netflix title The Harder They Fall, director Jeymes Samuel came to Deadline’s Contenders Film: London today for a lively panel with his leading man, Jonathan Majors. Set in the American West around the turn of the last century, the film stars Majors as outlaw Nat Love. When Love discovers that an old enemy is out of prison, he reunites his gang to seek revenge on the man who killed his parents. Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield and RJ Cyler round out the cast — and just to add to the film’s impressive star wattage, the original music was composed by R&B legend Jay-Z, who also produced.
Speaking to Deadline’s Tom Grater, Samuel explained that his intention in making a Western film with a mixed-gender and largely Black cast was to bring a bit more equality to the genre. “Westerns have always been my favorite genre,” he enthused. “I always loved the old west, everything about it. But the one thing that frustrates me is that they always show you a really narrow vantage point, and there’s no room on either side for interpretation. Women are always subservient — women of all colors — and people of color in general are treated as less than human. The word ‘subservient’ is almost a compliment [for those roles]. So it wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to put my own stamp on the western genre, I just wanted to broaden the storytelling landscape of it.”
Samuel referred to history to back up his point. “There were a lot of black people in the old west that never get mentioned, post-slavery,” he said. “Wyatt Earp died in 1929, the gunfight at the OK Corral took place in 1881, and the Emancipation Proclamation act was in 1863 — there were decades of the old west after slavery. And, quite frankly, where are all the women? How come every woman in a Western is a prostitute? I wanted to even the playing field a little bit.” He laughed, “Bring balance to the Force!”
Asked about his role as a cowboy, Majors explained that it was a subject close to home. “I grew up in Dallas, Texas,” he said, “so the cowboy lifestyle, or culture, is part of the fabric there. I lived on a farm — I don’t think I had an inorganic egg until I went to college! I guess I always had an affinity for Westerns, because it’s in my blood a little bit. And film was an opportunity to show that and experience that.”
Check back Monday for the panel video