When Antoine Fuqua met with MGM to begin discussions about The Magnificent Seven, the big screen remake of the 1960s Western by the same name (which is based on the Japanese classic film, Seven Samurai), there weren’t any major actors attached to the movie. Sure, the names of the usual suspects were being tossed around, but Fuqua already had a visual in mind. Simultaneously, the #OscarsSoWhite conundrum was flooding our collective timelines. He told the MGM big wigs, “It needs to be an event; it needs to be something we haven’t seen and it needs to be more diverse.” Then he lowered the boom suggesting that Hollywood A-lister, Denzel Washington play the lead. And just like that, a role made legendary by Yul Brynner, was now going to be embodied by the Oscar winner who earned the trophy for Training Day, the film on which he and Fuqua first successfully collaborated.
Fuqua says he has been intentionally silent about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. His apprehension was in the issue becoming “hot topic” fodder for television networks to use for eyeballs and ratings and he simply didn’t want to get caught up in the noise of it all. Plus, he believed that eventually the noise would die down as summer blockbusters began to unfold. What the Paris Has Fallen director really wanted to do is not only authentically discuss Hollywood’s lack of diversity but devise effective ways to bring about more opportunities and truly move things forward. EBONY.com talked to the director about his strategy to do just that, teaming up with Washington yet again, and the personal context behind making one magnificently, gun-slinging, slick-talking, wild ride of a film.
EBONY.com: You insisted upon a diverse cast for The Magnificent Seven. Why was that so important to you and what kind of response have you received?
Antoine Fuqua: The world we live in is like a Benetton ad. It’s changed and we have to appeal to a broader audience. You want younger kids of every race to be able to see themselves in the movie. Look, you can fight, march and picket all you want but green is what talks. Skill is what talks. You have to do the work and if you do the work and successfully do it well, you can make change and Hollywood will follow. If there’s a movie about two bees dancing on the ceiling and it makes $300 million, you’ll see a lot of movies with insects dancing on the f**king ceiling. It doesn’t matter. It’s a business. People in Hollywood go home to their wives and children who look like they do. If you’re in that position, your natural thought pattern is sometimes to think ‘Superman, oh yeah he’s White.’ You can’t get mad at somebody for doing that. It’s the world they live in and for some, they only live in that bubble.
The change has to start with the work. It’s always been that way. Sydney Poitier was so powerful on the screen that you had to respect him. Denzel Washington is so powerful on the screen that you have to respect him. As people behind the camera, we have to be successful so that there’s no debating on if a Black [person] can do the job. Part of the decision for me to direct a Western is because some, young Black man who may want to make a movie about Mars, is behind me. Somebody has to be the example and say just because of the color of his skin, doesn’t mean he can’t make a movie outside of the hood because Antoine did it.
EBONY.com: There have been 13 years between you directing Training Day to you directing Equalizer where you and Denzel have partnered again. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait so long this time around. So, why this film? Why was this the right project for you two to come together again?
Antoine Fuqua: Obviously we’ve stayed in touch. We were going to do American Gangster but that didn’t work out. I went on and did other things and he went on and did other things. Equalizer is something he called me about. We were both trying to find the right project. When The Magnificent Seven came around, I flew to New York and met with Denzel for lunch. He knows how much I love Westerns. In fact, there’s a little bit of a Western feel in Equalizer. He agreed to do it and then Ethan Hawke heard I was doing it. He literally cornered me at the IMAX premiere of Equalizer and said ‘if you do that f**king movie I’m in. I don’t care what role it is, I’m in it.’
EBONY.com: What were the major pitfalls and challenges of transforming a remake into your own?
Antoine Fuqua: The reason I wanted to remake this movie— and trust me, it’s intimidating— is after reading the script, I realized that tyranny and terrorism have not change. The same things are happening today, so this story is very relevant. And we have to make the film diverse because the world has changed. It’s not just the White cowboy or the White soldier; it’s all of us together now. It’s White, Black, Asian, Native American, Latino—we can all come together to fight tyranny, which is why I was confident in making the movie as long as the DNA remained the same.
EBONY.com: Did you tell your cast not to go back and watch Seven Samurai?
Antoine Fuqua: No, because they’re all great actors. They have their own process. I would never say don’t do anything. What we all talked about was that we’re not trying to make a Western. The worst thing you could do is try to make a Western, speak like a Western and act like you’re in a Western. I asked them to just be who they are during that era. We just did our own thing with respect the genre so that the movie can live in its own time.
EBONY.com: You’ve mentioned before that you loved Westerns. Why did you decided to pick this one instead of others?
Antoine Fuqua: This was one of my favorite films growing up. I watched Westerns with my grandmother and my dad so they have a special meaning for me. Westerns are simple stories where there’s good and there’s evil and where people had a sense of space and freedom. Growing up in the city, as a kid you’ve never really seen that before. It’s a beautiful dream to go from concrete to big skies, dirt and horses.
The Magnificent Seven is set to open theaters on Sept. 23 via Sony Pictures.