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Director Jeymes Samuel Reveals His Reasoning for Not Using the N-Word in ‘The Harder They Fall’

Jeymes Samuel was certain of the details and narratives he wanted to depict when putting together “The Harder They Fall,” a Western helmed by the Black director and depicting male and female cowboys with an all-Black cast.

The storyline predates people of color being seen as more than savages, but Samuel, clear of his vision, did not include language that would degrade the regality of his characters — all of whom were people who once existed and were placed in a fictional story for the big screen.

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 06: (L to R) Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Regina King and Director Jeymes Samuel pose at a photocall for “The Harder They Fall” during the 65th BFI London Film Festival at The May Fair Hotel on October 6, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Netflix)

“It’s an all-Black Western. No N-words. Even in the teaser, no one’s calling us the N-word. There’s no subservience,” Samuels explained to ESSENCE.

Driving that point home in the film is a scene in which Regina King’s character, Trudy Smith, says to a white soldier guarding a prison transport cell, “We ain’t no nincompoop,” before rescuing notorious outlaw Rufus Buck, played by Idris Elba. While using the N-word would have matched the language used during those times, Samuel fiercely explained why it was unnecessary. 

“Just because it’s a period piece stop calling us ni–as. It doesn’t give you license to call us ni–as 100 times,” he explained. “Just because the story takes place in the 1800s shouldn’t give you license to make women subservient. We’re kings and queens on horseback.”

Instead, the film depicts Black men and women having autonomy outside of gender expectations, and existing with some level of abundance in environments, such as the town of Rosewood, built without the influence of white people.

“I didn’t compromise in one area with that vision. Everything that’s in my brain I had to put on the screen. I think that’s really important with art, with your vision,’ added the director-musician, who also scored the film’s 14-track soundtrack. He continued, “I wrote a script where I assembled all of the superheroes and supervillains like ‘The Avengers.’ I put them in one space and one time so after ‘The Harder They Fall’ no one can ever say we didn’t exist in the Old West in cinema or in real life.”

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