With Idris Elba at the helm of an impressive all-black cast and Jay-Z among the producers, the premiere of Netflix’s reinterpreted western “The Harder They Fall” on Wednesday opened the London Film Festival with a bang.
The film, a directorial debut for London-based Jeymes Samuel, features an array of black talent portraying real historical characters from the Old West in a fictional plot set to a reggae and beats-laden soundtrack.
Samuel, who co-produced and co-wrote the original script, left his longtime friend Elba no choice but to play Rufus Buck, a violent and feared outlaw of the era.
“(It was) ‘you do it’ … we grew up together … and here we do a western,” joked Elba when the couple discussed the film at a press conference with other actors and crew in front of the premiere.
Samuel, also a singer-songwriter and record producer who worked with Jay-Z on tracks for The Great Gatsby in 2013, said the collaboration reaffirmed the rap star’s talents beyond music.
“The interesting thing is that he’s super cine-savvy,” said the 42-year-old filmmaker.
“People think of the name Jay-Z and they automatically take on … music,” he added, noting that he was very knowledgeable about both westerns and “film in general”.
– “Seductive” genre –
Samuel said he got a “dream cast” for “The Harder They Fall,” which includes actor-director Regina King as Buck’s sidekick “Treacherous” Trudy Smith and Jonathan Majors as rival Nat Love.
LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Edi Gathegi also star in a revenge story on the plains of Texas, which is provided with pulsating music, including the Nigerian icon Fela Kuti.
The novice director, who grew up watching westerns on British television, said that “the Old West genre was always tempting,” but he “wanted to do more with it.”
“The margin through which they showed these stories was very narrow … women of all skin colors were always submissive. If you were a person of color, you were less than a person,” said Samuel.
In addition to three screenings at the London Film Festival and a few screenings in select US cinemas, “The Harder They Fall” will be released worldwide on Netflix on November 3rd.
According to co-producer James Lassiter, who convinced Samuel of his virtues, the streaming platform is “the right place” for the cinematic film.
“The goal, if we want to tell a story like this with this cast, is to have as many people around the world (with) access to it,” said Lassiter.
“Sometimes when you do a theatrical release there are these built-in prejudices as if no one wants to see an all-black cast,” he added, noting, “in certain areas they will tell the studios that this movie is not for us” . “
– ‘Life changing’ –
For Elba, who contracted Covid-19 last year, the global health crisis had a profound impact on him and his way of thinking while filming.
“The pandemic showed that we are all human and the racial thing is pretty stupid,” he said.
“Of course there is systematic racism in our system that will take time to come out, but in terms of storytelling, it’s a great day for us.
“It’s a great day for everyone.”
The 49-year-old actor noted that his own personal struggle with the virus helped him use “compassion” in his portrayal of the unsympathetic and brutal Buck.
“It really gave me a life changing perspective. I think I brought some of that maturity … into this character,” said Elba.
“We encouraged each other to get under the skin with these characters.”
Before “The Harder They Fall” hit the small screen, the cinematic unveiling was held at London’s Southbank Center on Wednesday night, with Jay-Z appearing on the red carpet to kick off the 12-day film festival.
In its 65th year it ends with “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” with Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand, whose husband Joel Coen directs, and Oscar-winning actress Denzel Washington.