Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary

The Harder They Fall Looks Dope as Hell but Why Are We Still Erasing Fat, Dark-Skinned Women From Their Own Narratives?

Disappointing, but not surprising at all.
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Before I dive in, I have to apologize for not looking more into this back when I fangirled about the teaser trailer for The Harder They Fall. I had no idea these were actual Black historical figures being portrayed and thought it was a just a stylish, Black take on the Western genre.

But now we have a full trailer, and along with that trailer is an entire thread proudly breaking down the efforts that went into casting these real-life heroes of the Old West.

Which includes a glaring, but all too common omission.

The real Stagecoach Mary was a dark-skinned, plus-size Black woman, which many have been pointing out since this thread was tweeted.

Now, I don’t recall there being this thread breaking down each character back with the teaser trailer, but as a Black, plus-size woman, I kinda feel disgusted with myself for not looking into that first announcement back in June more and realizing that, wow, we’re still being altered in our own history—by our own people.

But the desire for fun, Black representation took center stage in my head, but that desire has been greatly diluted by this tweet that’s patting the director on the back for showcasing Black folks. Not only has Stagecoach Mary been misrepresented, but they’re congratulating themselves on a job well done with the casting.

If the point was to showcase Black folks, why aren’t we all where we’re supposed to be? More importantly, why is this casting being written as a win?

I’m sorry for missing this before, but I see it now, and while I’d love to say that I am filled with rage, I’m really just … tired.

Unlike some completely fictional story where I just wish I’d see myself more while knowing that’s not always a top priority with creatives (I’m a fat, Black, queer woman, so I already know the odds are stacked against me), Stagecoach Mary is real. I know I have to convince folks that having someone who looks like me isn’t gonna tank their sales, but when it comes to depicting actual Black women who existed in the past accurately? I shouldn’t have to convince anyone of anything.

This should be the chance to let a fat, dark-skinned Black woman shine, and the willingness to take her out of her own story is so hurtful. If these women can’t be in their own stories, then where else is there for them to go?

The media constantly shies away from the kind of Black women who are closer to representing me, and the excuses are numerous, but beyond those excuses is this willful ignorance on the subject in favor of letting this kind of casting continue. There is a call to arms when white creatives do it, but when it’s an all-Black cast or Black creatives at the helm, we’re expected to take it as is without offering any sort of criticism.

Basically, you’re labeled a hater if you can’t shut up and celebrate the win of having an entirely Black cast onscreen, because, well, it is technically a win compared to what Hollywood typically looks like. But then you realize that, as folks work to make Hollywood more Black, you’re not being included in that definition of Black, even if the story has a character that SHOULD include you.

That sends a message of your own people thinking that the only way they can make Black more visible and acceptable to the masses is to leave you behind, because you’re not appealing enough to be what people want.

Actually, it’s worse than that, because in the case of Stagecoach Mary, they actually want to include her … but not really. The idea of Stagecoach Mary works for this ensemble cast—just not Stagecoach Mary herself.

Yes, not only was Stagecoach Mary a fat, dark-skinned Black woman (an older woman, as this tweet points out), but in The Harder They Fall, she’s a love interest. We could’ve had a fat, dark-skinned, Black, older woman who got to be a lead character, an absolute badass, and a love interest.

But no.

That’s not what we’re getting.

A lot of Black folks were really excited for this release (myself included), but now we’re having to debate with ourselves if we should turn away from it because of its willingness to alter part of our community or support it in fear that if it doesn’t do well, we won’t get stories like this ever again.

As someone who doesn’t typically watch Westerns, I was more than ready to tune into this in November based on the cast and the feel of the films. But now I’m left wondering if I should watch something that decided to portray a fat, dark-skinned woman with a skinny, light-skinned actress. I’m not worried about any sort of “lol you people can never be satisfied” comments that crop up (or the ol’ “wait and see before you form an opinion,” as if this Netflix thread wasn’t constructed to help us FORM AN OPINION), but worried about what happens if a film like this doesn’t break records and the inevitable conversations about how audiences “don’t want movies like this after all.”

The pressure to support Black success in Hollywood is heavy, but is it worth it if you keep being overlooked? Is it worth it if the reasons you’re given for being overlooked are constantly being justified?

(image: Netflix/History.com)

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Author
Image of Briana Lawrence
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)