The Harder They Fall, directed by Jeymes Samuel, has finally landed on Netflix. Starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, Deon Cole, Zazie Beetz, the Jay-Z-produced film is a rare Black cast entry in the Western genre. That distinction is one of the main reasons Regina King told EBONY she had to be part of this film.
“It was just a space that we don’t get to see ourselves in, one; and two, how often do we get the opportunity to have that big film with all of those people?” she explained. “You don’t hear that. Usually for us if it’s something like that—and it’s been a long, long, long time—it’s usually a romantic comedy, but it’s never a genre like western, or action or any of that nature.”
Prior to directing The Harder They Fall, Samuel had already earned notoriety in his native London as a singer-songwriter, music producer and filmmaker, going by The Bullitts. Back in 2013, Samuel won critical acclaim for his short film They Die By Dawn (which accompanied his first album, They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories). The short, which premiered at South By Southwest, starred heavy hitters—Michael K. Williams, Erykah Badu, Isaiah Washington, Jesse Williams and Rosario Dawson. A Black western as well, the film was set in the Black town of Langston, Oklahoma in 1890.
Even before she knew the full cast of Samuel’s first feature-length film beyond Idris Elba, King revealed that she was already sold. “When I met Jeymes and he broke down his vision, I just was so excited,” she beamed. “It felt fresh. I played some of the music that he had already written to some of the scenes, and I just was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to take a ride with you.’” (The music, which meshes contemporary rhythms like reggae and hip-hop, along with a few unexpected genres, is vibrant throughout the film and can be enjoyed on a soundtrack, for which Jay-Z has two collaborations, released last week.)
The Black history twist to the film, like her HBO limited series Watchmen, was a bonus for the actress. Even though The Harder They Fall is a completely fictional story mainly following Jonathan Majors’ Nat Love as he seeks revenge against Idris Elba’s Rufus Buck, its other characters are also largely Black people from the Old West who have, until now, failed to receive their mainstream flowers. Others include Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield), Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), and Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole). King’s character Treacherous Trudy Smith (or Getrude Smith) is a little known pickpocket. Cuffee, played by Danielle Deadwyler, who might be recognizable from Watchmen, also has a unique twist.
“When you can take in real history and do an extrapolation of it, I feel like it pulls people in, and people don't feel like they have to watch,” King, who recently received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, explained to EBONY. “I am guilty of being in some of these pieces [where] you feel it’s your obligation to watch it because it's a history lesson or it's a subject that's very topical.”
With The Harder They Fall, she truly believes that the entertainment shines through. “When you feel like this is an appointment film. This is something that I'm just going to go for the entertainment, and then you happen to get that extra history lesson or bit of information that's relevant to today or the past, that’s just a win-win. I feel a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
Her next win-win is portraying shero Shirley Chisholm in the film Shirley, written and directed by Oscar winner John Ridley, with whom she won her first two Emmys as Outstanding Supporting Actress in the ABC limited anthology series American Crime. “It's been a passion project for my sister [Reina, with whom she owns the boutique Royal Ties Productions] and I for almost 12 years now. And it's pretty much following Shirley through that ‘72 election and a little bit before just to get you familiar with just who this hero was and who she is and what she's represented to so many.”
That last part is particularly important to King who feels that “so many people know her name and feel like ‘oh she's one of our heroes because when Black History Month or whatever comes around, she’ll get a date or a page or whatever” but they don’t know her. “I just feel like it's just important to know what inspire those who inspire us.”
And this is one of the many reasons Regina King continues to inspire us.
Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies.