Editor’s note: Deadline’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and celebrates the scripts of films that will be factors in this year’s movie awards race.
There have been Black ensemble Westerns before, from Posse in 1993 all the way back to 1937’s Harlem on the Prairie. Still, they’ve hardly been as prolific as those led by Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. Now comes The Harder They Fall, Netflix’s Jeymes Samuel-helmed pic, which combines an ensemble cast of Black actors with a Sergio Leone-inspired style, plus a few modern touches.
When Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) was a child, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) killed his parents. After a prison break frees Buck, Love assembles a gang to kill him. Love’s gang includes saloon owner Stagecoach Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz) and Fields’ muscle Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler). Buck’s gang includes Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trudy Smith (Regina King).
There are many more Black Western legends in the cast. Delroy Lindo plays U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves. Edi Gathegi is Bill Pickett, Damon Wayans Jr is Monroe Grimes, R.J. Cyler is Jim Beckwourth, Deon Cole is Wiley Escoe, and DeWanda Wise is Eleanor Love. The characters are based on actual Western icons, though the idea that they all had an adventure together is pure fiction. The film’s stylized action and editing harkens to Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy.
Musician Samuel co-wrote (with Boaz Yakin) and directed The Harder They Fall after previously directing the music video for Jay-Z’s “Legacy”; Jay-Z counts as a producer of the film. Samuel also composed the music and wrote songs which many of the cast perform. Those, combined with tracks by Kid Cudi and Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill and Seal, add a modern touch to the Old West.
Since premiering on Netflix on November 3, The Harder They Fall has been nominated for two Critics Choice Awards (Best Ensemble and Best Song for “Guns Go Bang”) and won a Gotham Tribute Award for the Ensemble.
Click below to read Samuel and Yakin’s screenplay.
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