words Adam Davidson
“There was a sense of responsibility and a reverence that hovered in the air.” – Edi Gathegi on The Harder They Fall
In his directorial debut, Jeymes Samuel assembles an all-star cast of Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors and Regina King to tell the forgotten stories of the historical black figures in the wild West.
When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers that his enemy (Idris Elba) is being released from prison he reunites his gang to track down Rufus Buck and seek revenge.
One of those riding with him in this exhilarating western is the hot-tempered Bill Pickett played by Edi Gathegi.
Edi Gathegi talks with Adam Davidson to discuss his character, giving black people a voice in the western genre and working under Jeymes Samuel.
When the institution of slavery was abolished, and the formerly enslaved flocked West in search of a better life and a fresh start, many of them became Cowboys and a third of them were Black.
However, when the ‘wild West’ is depicted in Hollywood people have a preconceived notion of heroism led by screen legends like John Wayne and James Stewart, leaving certain ethnic groups misrepresented and marginalised.
Director Jeymes Samuel said: “I loved Westerns so much growing up that when they invented Google I began to research all these great characters that we never got to learn about through movies.”
Edi added: “It’s without question people of color existed in that time period and in these spaces. The history of cinema and early cowboy literature erased our contributions, so it’s time. Historical wrongs are being addressed in the very premise of this film, an ‘all black western’ and it’s wonderful to see these faces represented entirely outside the proverbial white gaze.”
The events of the movie are fictional but the characters depicted are very much real. Through extensive research, Jeymes selected individual black cowboys who all lived in different places in the West at different times throughout the 19th century and “assembled them like Black Gods, and put them in one space at one time,” said the director.
Edi plays Bill Pickett, a rodeo cowboy who lived from 1870 to 1932. The actor describes him as ‘the moral compass of the crew.’ He added: “In a crew of hotter heads, he brings reason. He’s a loyal self-sacrificing brother, who watches everyone’s back. He can also be both charming and deadly.”
Jeymes made this movie with the idea of giving black people a voice in a genre that they had once been misrepresented or silenced.
Edi talks about the responsibility of the cast to deliver his vision: “We were there to work first and foremost. Everyone took their jobs to heart and understood we had the opportunity to add something to the canon of black excellence. It was an opportunity to enter a long overdue conversation of great figures having been under taught in schools and historically forgotten.
“Everyone showed up for this and there was a sense of responsibility and a reverence that hovered in the air.”
Edi describes what it was like working under musician turned director Jeymes Samuel, he said: “The movie has lived inside the director’s head for years and he had a very clear vision of what he wanted, so my goal was to deliver exactly what was in his head.
“When a filmmaker is that specific, your job as an actor is to get out of the way and satisfy the needs of his story. A performance working or not working is an afterthought, the goal is to trust the vision.”
The Harder They Fall will be in select theaters on October 22 and on Netflix November 3.