“The more it hurts to fall” and “Identity”. How New Netflix Movies View America’s Racial Issue Differently

The two new films released almost simultaneously on the streaming service Netflix – the grandiose western-style “The Harder It Is to Fall” and the humble chamber drama “Identity” – for all their cardinal ideological, stylistic and aesthetic differences, have one thing in common. Both films look at America’s inescapable racial problem. They look completely differently, but these views, coinciding in time, are all the more interesting in their comparison.

Black Western – the formation of the genre

In the press materials for the release of The Harder They Fall, there was a short historical background. According to this report, at least a third of the cowboys – that is, the shepherds who drove their cattle across the vast expanses of the American Wild West – were black.

What can not be said if you draw ideas about cowboys from Westerns – the classic American cinema genre, in which these same cowboys not so much graze and drive cattle, but fight with Indians, rob passing trains, wash gold, protect defenseless civilians from robbers, or turn themselves robbers, charm beauties, fight with each other, endlessly demonstrating phenomenal dexterity in horse riding, possession of a lasso and, of course, a pistol.

Westerns – as a romantic reflection of the romantic story of the conquest of the American West – appeared almost immediately with the advent of cinema. As in other genres, black characters in these films, if they were, then appeared only in tertiary roles of servants and the like. It even got to the point of absurdity: as in the minstrel show and in early musical films, in one of the very first westerns, In Old California (1910), black characters were played by white actors with black painted faces.

One of the most famous westerns, considered the pinnacle of the genre classic “The Seekers” by John Ford, is based on the fate of the legendary black cowboy Britt Johnson. However, in 1956, when the film was being filmed, an African American starring in a western was still completely unthinkable. As a result, the main character was played by the symbol of courageous cowboys, himself having a semi-mythical status, John Wayne. Even 15 years later, recalling the film in an interview with Playboy magazine, Wayne, not at all embarrassed, said: “I believe in the supremacy of the white race – until blacks are educated enough to feel responsible.”

A breakthrough in the genre of “black western” was filmed in 1972, Sydney Poitier’s film “Buck and the Preacher”. Poitiers was then at the height of fame and recognition – back in 1964 he became the first black actor to be awarded an Oscar for Best Actor, and in 1967 two films with his participation: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Stuffy southern night “showed a completely new for American cinema image of an African American – full of dignity as an intelligent and serious professional who respects himself and demands the same respect from whites.

Poitiers’ directorial debut, Buck and the Preacher, was the first western in Hollywood history to star black actors. Immediately after the Civil War, the former soldier Bac (Poitiers) and the priest who joined him (the famous actor and singer Harry Belafonte), in alliance with the Indians, fight off the invasion of white racist marauders on the train with black settlers heading for the development of the Wild West. Against the backdrop of a bitter struggle for civil rights at the turn of the 1960s and 70s, Poitiers’ film sounded like a political declaration.

Black cowboys in westerns, and even more so black westerns, nevertheless remained very rare. With a certain stretch the genre can be attributed to “Armed Detachment” (original “Posse”, 1993) about a detachment of black soldiers during the Spanish-American War in Cuba in 1898.

Only in the new millennium, popular black actors began to appear in westerns directed by famous, authoritative directors. The most notable in this regard were two films by Quentin Tarantino: Django Unchained (2012) with Jamie Foxx and The Hateful Eight (2015) with Samuel L. Jackson. In 2016, Antoine Fuqua, the future director of the latest Bond film No Time to Die, invited Denzel Washington to play the lead role for his remake of the classic The Magnificent Seven.

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These films gradually began to displace the traditional “white” coloring of the classic American cinema genre, and although black heroes and, accordingly, black actors in them were single inclusions, they largely prepared the appearance of such a purely black western as “The More It Hurts to Fall.”

“The more painful it is to fall”

“The more painful it is to fall” is a fundamentally and defiantly defiant black western. For its author James Samuel, this is a debut in big cinema, although he is far from a beginner in art. A native of London, 42-year-old Samuel first followed the path of his older brother, British singer, musician, songwriter Henry Samuel, widely known in the world as Seal.

In the musical world, James Samuel is known as The Bullitt’s – a pseudonym that he borrowed from the title of the classic film noir film “Bullitt” with Steve McQueen in the title role.

The Bullitt’s musician has two albums, a dozen singles, collaborations with Lucy Liu, Idris Elba, Jay Z.

However, the first passion, even before music, was cinema. At the age of eight, he began filming his first childhood film experiences. The video clips for his songs, which he makes himself, flash quotes from the early surreal films of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali.

In 2017, he directed the short film Jay Z: Legacy. The superstar rapper was so impressed with the collaboration that he agreed to produce James Samuel’s full-length debut, the black western “The Harder to Fall.”

Despite the fact that Samuel was born and raised in Britain, he has always experienced a craving for the western, the most American cinema genre.


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