Following my move to Bowling Green State University, I am happy to say that I will be presenting at the 2019 Pop Culture Consortium Conference “Telling & Retelling Stories: (Re)imagining Popular Culture” at Wayne State University (March 1-3, 2019).
My paper carries the title “What we lost in the fire, we’ll find in the ashes:” Black Masculinity, Violence, and Sexuality in The Magnificent Seven and The Hateful Eight.
John Sturges’ 1960 classical Western The Magnificent Seven, itself a retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954), is an entry in the archive of American popular culture that continues to be referenced, revisited, and revised – from the 2-season CBS adaptation (1998-2000) to Adam Sandler’s failed Western parody The Ridiculous 6 (2015). Two recent revisionist Western films likewise draw on the 1960s movie, to varying degrees: Antoine Fuqua’s 2016 Magnificent Seven is an obvious remake of the Western classic, while Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight (released just one year earlier in 2015) only loosely references the film. Despite their distinct differences, the two films share one significant commonality: Both take place in the aftermath of the American Civil War and feature as their protagonist a Black bounty hunter. The decision of the auteur-filmmakers to introduce as the main character of their respective films not only a Black man, but one whose profession allows and requires him to mete out justice by means of physical violence, has to be seen as an interrogation and subversion of the traditionally white and often racist history of the Western genre. However, it also has to be understood as a commentary on the history of the Civil War and on contemporary race relations in the USA. In this presentation, I analyze how these two recent re-interpretations of the Western hero trope engage with questions of masculinity, race, sexuality, and violence. I argue that while on a surface level, Fuqua and Tarantino appear to have made similar choices in the development of their black protagonists, they offer radically different takes on the relationship between violence and Black masculinity. Fuqua’s Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is modelled after the traditional Western hero who leads his diverse posse of outlaws and misfits with moral integrity and reason. Tarantino’s Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) on the other hand is a ruthless killer and sexual sadist set on taking revenge for past injustice. In my paper, I discuss the different visions the two films present with regard to the history and current state of US race relations, and argue that the directors’ racial backgrounds (Fuqua a director of color, Tarantino a white filmmaker) very much influence the portrayal – and possible interpretations – of their Black male protagonists.