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Wed Sep 15, 2021, 12:19 PM

The Rich History of Black Westerns Enters a New Era

The upcoming Netflix western “The Harder They Fall” chronicles a blood feud between the Nat Love Gang and the Rufus Buck Gang. As in many westerns, the dueling outlaws hold deep grudges. They live outside polite society. They shoot first and occasionally get around to asking questions.

They’re also all Black, a fact that goes unmentioned throughout the course of the film. “The Harder They Fall,” directed by Jeymes Samuel and starring an impressive lineup of stars, doesn’t use race as a means of social commentary, as many Black westerns have. Its radical gambit lies in reminding us there were Black outlaws and lawmen, even if they’ve often been given short shrift by the genre. The film makes its point through this brazen matter-of-factness.

“This is a western about Black people doing their own thing in their own space,” Samuel, a London native, said during a video call from Los Angeles. “It’s a western for us. We have been ignored from the history of the Old West and the cinematic presentation of what the Old West was.”

“The Harder They Fall” doesn’t much bother with white people — with one exception. In need of cash, Nat brings the gang member Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) with him to rob a bank. They’ve been warned their target is in a white town, and boy is it ever. The buildings are white. The roads are white. The horses are white. And, of course, the people are white. When Nat and Cuffee enter the bank, they’re met with shocked silence ...


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