Antoine Fuqua isn’t here to talk about your feelings about race in connection with Denzel Washington playing the lead in a Western. Fuqua makes it very clear, he’s not trying to make any sort of statement with his new film, The Magnificent Seven, outside of, “If it sounds fun to watch Denzel Washington ride horses and shoot things, you should see this movie.” That’s not to say Fuqua isn’t intrigued by these questions and interpretations about his movie in regards to race, he just wants to be clear, “You brought it up, not him.”
Fuqua is a fascinating filmmaker to talk with. He can be gruff, but in the most pleasant way possible. And for a guy who didn’t make a movie about race (I truly believe that this was not his intention), he does have a lot to say about the subject of a filmmaker’s role when it comes to this subject. And Fuqua is proud of the fact that his The Magnificent Seven stars a black man in the Old West, but the film never once uses the “n-word.” His explanation is simple and true: Why would he or Denzel Washington want to hear that word every day while making a movie? When the subject of Quentin Tarantino’s recent Westerns is brought up, and Tarantino’s use of that word, Fuqua has quite a bit to say about that.
The Magnificent Seven is a remake of the 1960 John Sturges Western, which is a remake of 1954’s Seven Samurai. The plot is simple: Seven rapscallions, from all races and creeds, come together to fight an evil man who is taking advantage of a small Western town. As Fuqua says (a lot) ahead, that’s the story. Anything else a) muddies the waters and b) represents what you are bringing in with you when you see this movie.
Fuqua also discusses what is one of the more, let’s say, eccentric performances of the year with Vincent D’Onofrio, who may be from another planet in this movie. A performance Fuqua refused to see until he started rolling the camera, because he wanted to experience it for the first time just like a viewer would.
There are a lot of The Magnificent Seven interpretations, but when you’re asked about it, your answer is always something like, “Denzel and I wanted to make a Western.” But are the interpretations flattering?
Yeah, it’s okay. People bring things to the theater. Everybody brings their own ideas. And that’s the beauty of making movies: That experience is interesting, how a movie plays with what crowd, or what’s going on with somebody’s life, or in the world even and how it’s interpreted. So, I think it’s great everybody is painting their own picture of what they feel.
And they are with this one…
And that’s something that’s intentional in a way, because I don’t talk about color. There are no n-words, none of that. And people have asked me about diversity and racism: that’s something you’re thinking about, that’s not something I said. [Laughs] I just put it up there on the screen and let you make your own judgment.
I’ve enjoyed some of the interpretations, and they made me think about the fact an African-American is playing the lead in a Western, but my first reaction when I heard about this movie was, “I just want to watch Denzel shoot things.”
That’s what I said! I tell people that all the time, “I want to see Denzel on a horse with guns shooting people.” I can tell sometimes they don’t want that answer, they want more. When I was in the meeting with MGM, I never said, “We should make a black guy the lead.” I looked down the list, and there were some great actors on the list, and I said, “Honestly, I want to see Denzel on a horse.” For me, that’s an event. And MGM and Sony said, to their credit, “Absolutely. Can you get him to do it?” No one said, “Is it a problem that he’s black?” That never came up in that room.