Antoine Fuqua On Directing & Diversifying “The Magnificent Seven” Starring Denzel Washington
Fifteen years ago, Denzel Washington became an Oscar Award winning actor with the film, “Training Day” directed by Antoine Fuqua. Thirteen years later, the pair reunited for “The Equalizer” and fans have only had to wait two years for the duo to reconnect for the remake of “The Magnificent Seven”. The original film from 1960 starred Yul Brynner. When MGM offered Fuqua the opportunity to remake the project, he wanted Denzel in the lead.
In the midst of the film being edited prior to its fall release, Directed By D’Amour had the exclusive opportunity to speak with Antoine about his humble beginnings as a production assistant and how he’s blazing a trail for other young filmmakers.
On his choice to recreate the 1960s classic…
Antoine Fuqua: When you look at the world today, when you oppress a people, it’s terrorism and tyranny. It takes individuals to come together and to stop it. A scene which actually happened in real life–if you burn down someone’s church and kill them, then you’re stripping them of their religion and their rights as human beings. When I read the script I said it’s important today because it’s still happening. We had to make the film diverse because the world has changed; it’s not just a white cowboy or a white solider; it’s all of us together now: white, black, Asian, Indians, Latinos, we all have to come together to fight tyranny so that’s why the cast reflects our world today and that’s why I was confident in making this film.
On whether or not there was push back towards diversifying the film and having Denzel as the lead?…
AF: Denzel is so powerful on the screen, you have to respect him. As directors and people behind the cameras, we have to be successful in the jobs that we’re in so there can’t be a debate of whether a black person can do the job. A part of the decision for me to do a western is that there’s a young black man behind me that wants to make a movie on Mars. Somebody has to be the example that just because of the color of his skin, it doesn’t mean he can’t make a movie outside of the hood because Antoine did it.
His thoughts on this year’s lack of diversity during awards season.
AF: If you want to appeal to a younger audience, younger kids of every race have to be able to see some of themselves in the movie. You can fight, march and picket all you want, [money] talks…[and] Hollywood will follow. If the movie is about two bees dancing on a ceiling and it make $300M, you’ll see a lot movies with insects dancing on the f**king ceiling! Show business should be called the business of show. You have to think of it that way you can demand change, you can argue with people all day but you can’t always win that debate when a lot of people in Hollywood go home and their children and their wives look like they do. If you’re in that position, your natural thought is to make Superman white. You can’t get mad at someone for doing that because that’s the world they live in and some of them only live in that bubble.
People at the top should absolutely make change and be more conscious of it there’s no doubt about it. It would be great if the head of every studio really truly put that sort of thought into it but they don’t here’s the thing [why he stayed out of the #OscarsSoWhite debate] I don’t want to get a call from a news outlet that day or when it’s the popular thing to talk about because then it’s about ratings, it’s not going to make change. Call me during the year when no one is talking about it and lets have a real discussion you can’t just do it when its popular because that’s when it fades away. It has to be a consistent year round conversation.
On putting in the work behind the scenes to become a renown director…
AF: Once you decide that you want to be a director, paying dues includes humbling yourself and going back to being a PA (production assistant) because you can’t pay your bills. The in-between is the humiliation, the hard work, the rejection, the self-doubt, eating ramen noodles–it’s all necessary, you don’t skip that. That’s all apart of the journey, it’s going to make you better anyway. Just don’t loose sight of your goal.
Advice for upcoming filmmakers for handling criticism and making their next film if the prior one wasn’t a box office success.
AF: You’re only as good as your last job but again it goes back to the work, if you put your best foot forward and it’s high quality whether it makes money or not, sometimes the audience doesn’t connect. Maybe some things were happening in the world that weekend and people didn’t go to the movies. But the right people can watch it and know that the quality is there [and can say the director] knows what he’s doing, there were good performances, he executed it well, came in on budget–all of those things come into play. You’ll get another job if you really put your heart and soul into the work and you have the talent, that’s what people look at. Numbers definitely affect you. And the next film may not be the one you wanted but you will work again. It’s hard, trust me. When you fail, you do step back a little bit but it doesn’t mean you’re out of the game if they know you have the talent and YOU KNOW you have the talent.