‘The Harder They Fall’ Director Jeymes Samuel On Black Cowboys, Working with Jay-Z, and the Audacity of Swag

Looking at They Die By Dawn and The Harder They Fall, it reminds me of El Mariachi to Desperado. Robert Rodriguez essentially remaking his film on a bigger budget and grander scale.

I shot They Die By Dawn in four days and I didn’t do it for commercial release. That was just an introduction to us in the Old West. Black people are a blur in that aspect of the new frontier, right? After slavery, from the Emancipation Proclamation Act to really the Roaring 20’s and the Harlem Renaissance. They just blurred us out from when we were actually on horseback with guns, all these outlaws and this and that and quite frankly, I want to see that history. The reason why people don’t like westerns as much is because the stories that should have been told weren’t being told. You see people queuing up to watch Regina King, Idris Elba [in this film]. I thought you all didn’t like Westerns?

The film is incredibly stylized. There’s a lot of swag in it, there’s a lot of style in it, which is a new sensation for black characters in this genre. I watched Thomasine & Bushrod [Gordon Parks, Jr.’s blaxploitation-meets-western answer to Bonnie & Clyde] for the first time this summer, and Bushrod has so much swag, but that was so rare to actually see on film.

Here’s the thing: those characters in real life were swagged out. And I think black people, no matter where we are, we are really image conscious, even in the ‘hood where we have no bread. So just the look of us as a people and the way we speak and the way we carry ourselves, so for me I just made the western that’s in my head, I make the movie that’s in my head like Barrington Levy’s cinematic score. I used to hear Barrington Levy’s “Here I Come” as a kid: “I’m broad, I’m broad, I’m broader than Broadway. Yes I’m broad, I’m broad, I’m broader than Broadway.” I used to hear horses galloping. It’s only right when I make my movie that I can get Barrington Levy to come into the studio.

So, it is incredibly stylized but really, it’s just incredibly Jeymes. If you look at music in Westerns, like Ennicio Morricone teaming up with Sergio Leone… that’s not cowboy music, right? That was the music of the day when Hollywood made that particular movie. But we grew up thinking that’s cowboy music. Cowboy’s never heard of the electric guitar. So for me, musically, I want to put our own stamp on it, our own signature.

Let’s dig into some of your touchstones growing up as you developed this relationship with film, some of your influences. What makes a film “incredibly Jeymes?”

My influence, I suppose, just came from life. I was taught to just hold on to everything you hold dear. As black people growing up in the hood, the most damaging thing is we start letting go of the things that built our character as children in the race to become an adult. So if we don’t see something as ‘cool’ anymore, or it might be called nerdy or whatever. I always despise that trait. I hold onto all of the things that I loved as a kid, no matter how childish. My mother told us, obey your crazy and never grow up. So all the things that I would see and hear as a kid—listening to Kate Bush on TV, as I got older, I want to work with Kate Bush. I worked with Charlotte Gainsbourg. I’m producing Jay Electronica. I work with every single one of my childhood heroes. I watch everything from Luis Buñuel’s Obscure Object of Desire to Omarion and Marques Houston’s You Got Served. And I hold on with dear life to the things that I enjoy because they are all things that form the tapestry of who we are as artists.

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