Grew Up Watching Westerns
While growing up in Texas watching westerns were a big part of my childhood, especially on Saturdays. There was Big Valley, Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. In the evenings, my favorite western was Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon. I even enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and later as an adult, watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.
But rarely have I ever seen a western with Black folks. Maybe a token character or two. But definitely not a full cast. So, it was to my delight to view the movie The Harder They Fall with audio description. Although, the movie premiered on Netflix some months ago, I am just getting around to watching it. But better late than never, right? And boy was it well worth it. The film has a cast of characters loosely based on real cowboys, lawmen and outlaws of the 19th century American West. It is about revenge, love and redemption. The film stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, and Deon Cole.
Representation Really Does Matter
Now when it comes to representation it really does matter. What I am talking about goes beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. It is providing equal access to information in a film, movie or TV show for those with vision loss. It is the way information is described and given to me as I engage with the film. Since I am blind watching films with excellent audio description is important to me. I watch a lot of audio described movies and I have to tell you this one was done exceptionally well. Let me tell you why.
Race and Skin Tone Described
From the very beginning of the movie race is communicated. In the opening scene we view a Black family sitting down to dinner. They are dressed in clothing of the time period. One of the men is described having dark Black skin with a salt and pepper beard. Too many times I have watched films with people of color in them never knowing that fact. There are times I don’t discover it until the character self-identifies by saying in one of their lines they are Black, Asian, Latino, etc. Then I have to reprocess the scene because if race is not communicated the thought process is to assume the dominate race which is white.
The audio description didn’t shy away from identifying variations of skin tone. In the Black community we are a rainbow of skin tones-from light skin to medium to dark-and variations in between. Throughout the whole movie skin tone variations were given which I greatly appreciated. For example, a character was described as a copper skinned man. It gave me context and understanding as to what the person really looked like especially since I had eyesight before. Other movies I have watch stop short and just describe hair and eye color. Some have stepped a little closer and have mentioned terms like olive skin tone or just use the generic word brown.
Clothing and Movie Title Described
Detail description of clothing. I was very impressed because too many times in the movies I watch there is little to no description of what people are wearing. In one scene a male character was wearing a poncho and black pants. While a female character wore a felt bowler hat. Yet, another male character wore a Crimson velvet coat. This information is specific and helpful to understanding the time period of the movie and also giving more equal access to what my sighted peers are getting too.
I Loved the description of the title of the movie, as one of the main male characters shot another character, the words to the title appeared on the screen one bullet shot at a time. That was clever and creative.
Black Hair Described
Unique description of Black hair. Very rarely do I watch a movie where Black hair is audio described. Every so often I will hear a word like dreadlocks or afro letting me know the character is probably Black. But in the Harder They Fall I was so pleased by the description of hair. For example, Stagecoach Mary had fluffy shoulder length natural hair and Treacherous Trudy Smith had micro braids.
My last observation of the audio description in this movie was how it was timed well with the music. This is a tricky thing to accomplish because it depends on the type of music and the scene in the film. Sometimes the audio description can be distracting or hard to follow because the music overpowers the scene. But in this movie I found both worked very well together.
The audio description was provided by International digital center with writer, Liz Gutman, and voicer, Bill Larson. I have noticed their name numerous times in the credits of movies I have seen. I am very appreciative of their work and hope to see more of this kind of audio description in the future not only from them but other companies that audio describe as well.