“The Magnificent Seven of today is us,” says Antoine Fuqua. “We just have to act. That’s why it’s international…it’s all of us. It’s not just one person. It’s the mothers and fathers and it’s the military and it’s the people not in the military. Anybody fighting for the right reason is The Magnificent Seven. Anybody fighting for the right reason, against tyranny, is The Magnificent Seven.”
These days, even fantastic flights of movie fantasy – like the films of The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Joe Wright’s fairy tale reinvention, Pan, and even Star Wars – have been hauled into the court of public opinion and pronounced guilty because of their lack of cultural diversity. The term, “whitewashing”, has now entered the contemporary parlance, denoting a film (like recent whipping boy, Gods Of Egypt) that casts Anglo-type actors in roles that should logically be played by people of colour. And as the social media “outrage” continues (Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange has recently been slammed for casting Tilda Swinton in an Asian role from the comic books), many filmmakers have seemingly started to respond in the casting of their films.
Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven should be above any kind of criticism, as his crew of hired gun heroes is admirably multicoloured, as played by the racially diverse Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier. “I thought about it and I didn’t think about it,” Antoine Fuqua – himself an African-American – replies to FilmInk when asked if this multiracial casting was an intentional choice. “When we were discussing who the lead would be, we had a list of the usual guys. I was in a room with MGM and I said, ‘You know who would be amazing as the lead, like Yul Brynner in the original? Denzel Washington.’ The room went quiet. Then everybody said, ‘Would he do it? He hasn’t done a western.’ So I had lunch with Denzel and we talked about it. And then from that point, it just opened up the flood gates to be more diverse. I didn’t think about it as colour. I just thought that I needed a powerful lead, and colour was a conversation that came after.”
As well as Fuqua’s Training Day Oscar winner, there’s also a South Korean in Byung-hun Lee, a Mexican in Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and an indigenous Alaskan in Martin Sensmeier. “That casting came after Denzel signed on,” Fuqua reiterates. “It opened the flood gates to think that way. For me, it’s a different world that we live in, and to me, the movie is about terrorism. It’s going to take us all to fight terrorism, so that’s what this is. That group represents the world today. But I didn’t want it to explicitly be about race, because the conversation would happen anyway. I didn’t want to put it in the movie. I’ll just let people bring whatever they’re going to bring to the theatre and let them put their own interpretation on. There’s a scene where Denzel goes into a bar, and the whole room goes quiet. Naturally, some people will think that’s because it’s a black man walking into a bar. But my thought was that they look at all the seven like that because they’re all mean, tough men. When those guys walk into a room, it’s not about race. It’s that they’re afraid of these types of men, whether it’s a Native American walking in, or Denzel walking in, or Chris Pratt walking in. They get the same reaction. From everybody. I didn’t want to put it in the movie.”
And happily, this disparate collection of actors got on well off-screen too. “They bonded,” Fuqua says. “They just did it on their own. That’s why I wanted all these guys, because I knew that they would. They all respect each other. They’re all professional, and they’re all great human beings. Literally everybody there was an amazing human being, and Denzel is such a leader. They would even get together in the trailer and talk. It was all about getting together a group of guys that would enjoy being together, and that I would enjoy seeing every day in an environment that I knew was going to be difficult. I wanted people that would help each other and support each other and help get us through the day and really just enjoy being part of The Magnificent Seven. We would all just look at each other and pinch ourselves and go, ‘Yeah, we’re making The Magnificent Seven…that’s pretty cool! Especially today. Who gets to do that?”