Real Black Cowboys Live On Screen In 'They Die By Dawn'

Four real-life outlaws meet up in the town of Langston, Oklahoma to play a risky game. The winner of their shootout gets to collect their collected bounty: $80,000. The losers? Well, the losers will "die by dawn." Such is the plot of director Jeymes Samuel's new short film, They Die By Dawn, which stars Michael K. Williams as Nat Love and Erykah Badu as Stagecoach Mary. The twist? Every character in the film is a historical figure who actually lived in the Old West. Oh, and all but three characters are African-American.

The film premiered last night in New York at the TriBeCa Film Center in an event co-sponsored by Bulleit Bourbon. We got a chance to talk to Samuel last night about his love of Westerns and his desire to reclaim black history. According to Samuel, it was important that all of the characters were real so that if kids today watch his films, they can go straight to the history books and learn how the West was really won (ie, with men and women of all races represented).

As Samuel explained, "I loved Doris Day and she starred in a film called Calamity Jane...How is that that I know all the words of 'Calamity Jane', who was a real character, but I've never been taught about Stagecoach Mary, who would wipe the floor with Calamity Jane? Like, swag for swag, Stagecoach Mary would put two bullets in Calamity Jane's behind and tell her 'go run back to Deadwood'. I've learned about Billy the Kid. I've never learned about Nat Love or Bill Pickett or Jim Beckwourth or Ben Hodges or Cherokee Bill or Rufus Buck and the Rufus Buck gang."

So, what's a Western fan like Samuel to do? Recruit the best black talent around, Avengers-style, in an ambitious project that spans not just They Die By Dawn, but the short film's full-length sequel, The Notorious Nine. Samuel promised us last night that stars Michael K. Williams and Erykah Badu will return in the sequel, as well as Rosario Dawson, Isaiah Washington, Kelly Hu, Nate Parker, and Felicia Pearson. And when I tried to squeeze out the name of who would be playing The Notorious Nine's big bad, Rufus Buck, Samuel refused, saying, "That's a secret! But it's ill, ill, ill!"

For more information, visit the official They Die By Dawn site and check out the trailer below:

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[Photo Credit: Film Village Limited]