Harder They Fall, The: Jeymes Samuel’s Tale of Real-Life Black Cowboys

Jeymes Samuel spent more than a decade planning a story of real-life Black cowboys.

He was finally on location in Santa Fe, New Mexico, gearing up to shoot his feature directorial debut, the Western The Harder They Fall.

He’d assembled an all-star cast, topped by Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors and Regina King, fresh off her supporting actress Oscar win for If Beale Street Could Talk.

Netflix had put up $90 million to fund Samuel’s reimagining of what he calls the New West, an epic canvas populated by bandits and lawmen, saloonkeepers and stagecoach robbers, gunslingers and sharpshooters, all of whom are Black.

The ensemble also features Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo and LaKeith Stanfield,

On March 12, 2020, and cameras were set to roll. But everything changed in an instant. “We were on set doing a run-through when we got the call: ‘Come down to the office,’” he recalls.

Tendo Nagenda, Netflix’s VP of original film, had arrived in New Mexico the day before. He landed just as the NBA canceled its games and Tom Hanks announced he had contracted COVID-19, “which for a lot of people made it real, ironically, at least within the film and entertainment world,” the exec recalls. “So the table read, and then the next day of shooting, turned into ground zero for how Netflix was going to deal with our films in production in the pandemic, in real time.”

The streamer then put all of its productions on hold for 14 days. It was comforting that Nagenda could reassure Samuel and his cast and crew in person that everyone would continue to be paid during the shutdown and that production would resume once things were safe. “Whether we’re down for two weeks or two months, we’re making this film,” Nagenda said. Production was actually shut down until September.