There's something powerfully restorative about seeing Black people on horses: It's a historically prevalent image that's been largely erased from mainstream media. The Harder They Fall seeks to change this. Writer/producer/director Jeymes Samuel grew up watching Westerns and didn't see himself accurately reflected. Drawing upon real, historic Black figures (previously the subjects of books including Best Shot in the West, Bad News for Outlaws, and The Legend of Bass Reeves), Samuel constructed a Western inclusive of the women and people of color who lived and prospered during the early settlement of the American West. The movie's fictional town of Redwood seems to reference the real-life Greenwood District of Oklahoma, which was one of the United States' most prominent concentrations of Black businesses. Known as "Black Wall Street," it was burned to the ground by White residents in the Tulsa race massacre of 1921.
Samuel cleverly nods to race when Love robs a bank in a White town: The buildings, the clothes, the inhabitants, and even the dirt on the ground are bright white. When he returns to Redwood, the "colored" town," the sets, the wardrobes, and the people are colorful and vibrant. Samuel keeps with the Western tradition of gratuitous violence; the gushing blood, the death, and the destruction are at Tarantino levels and can be difficult to watch (and, honestly, often feel unnecessary). But he strays from the traditional Western with the movie's glorious soundtrack, which features hip-hop and Blaxploitation-era funk. And while there are certainly "damsel in distress" moments that harken back to the traditional, machismo Westerns that so often depicted White women as feeble and listless, the Black female characters in The Harder They Fall are comparatively untraditional in their gender expression. Mary Fields and Trudy Smith are bold, outspoken, successful business owners with agency and agendas of their own. And Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) doesn't conform to gender expectations, wincing at the thought of having to wear a dress.