When The Magnificent Seven hit screens in 1960 (being a re-imagining/remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai), moviegoers were content to escape into the world of seven gunmen hired to defend a small Mexican village. Now the film's modern remake, which saw its world premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, centers on a diverse septet as they work to defend a village against a corrupt industrialist in post-Civil War America.
The Western genre is in a bit of a modern Renaissance, with filmmakers producing works as varied as Brokeback Mountain, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit to much acclaim in the past decade. Even in Old Hollywood, the Western genre gave filmmakers a way to interpret modern conflict and cultural anxieties in a way that simultaneously allowed audiences to escape and reflect, and many neo-Westerns carry on that tradition (see, for example, this year's Hell or High Water). So, when The Magnificent Seven reboot introduced its diverse cast, Western fans were excited to see how the film would use its lens to address modern issues of race and politics. Nevertheless, two key members of the cast rebutted the idea that this film has a particular agenda.
The Guardian sat down with Magnificent Seven stars Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington to discuss the film's intentions. The reporter attempted to make connections between the film's antagonist and presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as hightlight the importance of its diverse cast. Gilbey pressed his point, despite Washington's assertion right off the bat that the thought process behind production “wasn’t, like: ‘How are we going to reflect society?’” Pratt later added:
"There’s definitely a conversation that’s happening around the world and the movie seems to have become part of that. But that wasn’t our intention. I’m not the most articulate guy. I wish I were. So I’m not gonna be the one to express it. At the end of the day, it’s two hours of kickass entertainment...I find myself kind of withdrawing a bit. Look, no one pays me for my opinion. If I say something stupid and it becomes a headline, it’s, like: ‘Guess what Chris said!’ Then everyone clicks on this stupid thing I said."
Conversely, the older Washington was more content to joke with the reporter, though he felt similarly about sensationalizing himself or the film:
“The average person who’s paying to see it is just looking for a good time. When I did Cry Freedom, a doctor friend told me: ‘Denzel, I have life and death in my hands every single day. I go to the movies to escape.’ What I got from that was that just because it’s important to me doesn’t mean it’s important to the everyday person. We just try to give them enough to get the monkey off their back so they can feel like: ‘Hey, I’m Chris Pratt up there,’ or ‘I’m Denzel.’ It ain’t that deep.”
On the topic of casting, Magnificent Seven director Antoine Fuqua told The Guardian “There’s a problem. We did something about it. And here’s the beauty part: MGM and Sony backed it. No one said: ‘A black man? A Native American?’” He didn't discourage making the Trump comparison either, saying:
“I wouldn’t say not to. He represents that type. When I said tyranny, I meant raping the land, stealing people’s money. I made the movie because I wanted to say that.”
During the interview with The Guardian, Washington does allude to the importance of diverse on-screen representation, saying that viewers looking for an escape are often also looking to see themselves. After this year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy brought the issue of inclusivity to the forefront of conversations about Hollywood, more studios and filmmakers have striven to better reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. today. So it is cool to see those efforts continue, even when the film is set in the late nineteenth century (and especially seeing as the original The Magnificent Seven sported a German man playing a Mexican vaquero).
If the stars of The Magnificent Seven want to downplay the film's political potential, that's their prerogative. All the same, it's nice to think that all kinds of people can go to theaters this fall and finally escape into a world that shows people who look like them. However critics ultimately feel about the movie, its social impact may be an important one.
The Magnificent Seven opens in U.S. theaters on September 23rd, 2016.
Source: The Guardian