“Black lips are beautiful lips.” – Bill Pickett
The Harder They Fall, the western written and directed by Jeymes Samuel and starring Regina King (Treacherous Trudy), Jonathan Majors (Nat Love), Idris Elba (Rufus Buck), and LaKeith Stanfield (Cherokee Bill) is a simple revenge tale. Rufus Buck kills Nat Love’s parents at the beginning, and the rest of the movie is laser-focused on Nat’s revenge. The simplicity of the plot is enhanced by the creative storytelling, including a plethora of musical styles in the soundtrack, the incredible talent and beauty of its cast, and of course, the stunning sets and costumes.
The movie is refreshingly free of the white gaze, and while most of the historical figures it references were born into slavery, it is free of slave narratives as well. The characters are named after real people but bear no resemblance to the actual people. It’s up to the audience to research the people behind the characters (which we highly recommend – they are just as fascinating in real life).
But let’s focus on the fashion, shall we? We’ll touch a bit on the sets as well because they are just as gorgeous.
To start, what would a western be without hats?
Western hats have a multitude of shapes and sizes, which often correlate with the wearer’s profession and/or the weather. Not all cowboy hats look good on every person (we’re looking at you Jeff Bezos). The hats in the movie are all matched perfectly to the character and look great on the actors.
As for the characters, each costume is perfection, with the colors, fabrics, textures, and tailoring enhancing the storytelling.
Stagecoach Mary, played by Zazie Beetz sports a top hat and corset for her saloon/dance hall scenes – an outfit that we predict will launch a thousand Halloween costumes.
The movie is full of lush blues, purples, golds, and reds. Check out Treacherous Trudy’s tailored velvet jacket and contrasting texture skirt:
There is no shortage of velvet, with Rufus Buck wearing this gorgeous piece. Hugh Hefner could NEVER.
Even the accessories are fantastic:
And, did we mention how beautiful the actors are in the film?
Reluctantly moving away from the fashion and the actors, let’s talk about the sets. As mentioned above, the movie is free of the white gaze, and white people are only in a couple of scenes, including a literally all white town. Seriously, the whole town, including the steps and rocks(!), are white washed. It’s like an interrogation room or a gynecologist’s office. The Black towns, on the other hand:
Every building has a unique and brilliant color scheme with contrasting trim, and beaming interiors. The thriving town of Redwood City includes a clothes boutique and a textile barn where Mary and Trudy have arguably the best fight scene in the film.
The stores and businesses in Redwood City show the prosperity and illustrate that its citizens are vanguards of style.
While this blog post has been mostly gushing, the movie isn’t perfect. In a conversation between Trudy and Mary, Trudy tells a story about her sister who was bulled by a fat girl. Much has been written about the historical inaccuracy of the casting, particularly regarding Zazie Beetz as Steamboat Mary, who in real life was a tall, robust, plus-size, dark-skinned woman. Considering the rest of the movie isn’t going for accuracy, we would argue this isn’t a huge issue. But, the casting combined with this fatphobic conversation, is troubling. If Mary was cast as a bigger woman, it would have made for a more antagonizing discussion. As it is, the scene just falls back on the old trope of fat people being the bullies, when in reality, we are the ones victimized. The sister’s bully could have been nasty because the sister was disabled (Trudy describes Polio) or the bully was white.
Another issue we have is around a scene with Cuffy. While one of our favorite characters – gender queer and played beautifully by Danielle Deadwyler – Cuffy is made to wear a dress to appear more feminine. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing within the context of the story, but the scene in which they publicly change into the dress includes a joke by one of the other gang members. The intention of the scene appears to illustrate the treatment of trans and nonbinary people probably faced at the time, but considering the abuse and violence faced by trans and nonbinary people to this day, too many people watching could think it was actually funny. It was too subtle in its commentary to pack the punch that it needed to.
While not perfect, The Harder They Fall is a lush, exciting addition to the western genre. Black is beautiful, indeed.
d+b rating: GIMME MORE for the fashion, sets, music, acting, directing… basically, all of it.
Links for more info:
Photos courtesy of Netflix
More about the d+b rating: Everything we review on the blog will either receive a "Fuck This" or "Gimme More." We'll take a look at pop culture or industry happenings with an intersectional feminist eye to settle on a rating.