Zhao has signed on with Amazon Studios to film a biographical drama about legendary lawman Bass Reeves.
Filmmaker Chloé Zhao obviously is aiming to strike while the iron is hot — and she is a hot commodity — as critics are raving and audiences are cheering for The Rider, her acclaimed indie drama about real-life Lakota rodeo cowboy Brady Jandreau. The showbiz website Deadline reports that Zhao is saddling up with the Amazon Studios outfit to write and direct a biographical drama about the legendary Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi River.
According to Deadline, the not-yet-titled film “will follow Reeves’ journey as a young man born into slavery in 1838 who fled to the Indian Territory in search of freedom and went on to become one of the greatest lawmen of the American West.”
Zhao revealed that she hoped the Bass Reeves biopic would be her next project while talking with C&I about The Rider, which is showcased in the cover-story feature of our current issue.
“I'm trying to not just do your typical western, the sort of thing that you’re used to,” she told us. “Because this man led such an interesting life. During the 50 years I’m trying to include in the film, you see him going from being a slave in the pre-Civil War period to living in the Indian Territory, and then becoming a deputy marshal there.
“I just want to look at the history a little bit differently, and show how this country is a place where all these unlikely people from very different cultural backgrounds sort of came together. Even though they had all these issues — they still built this country together.”
Many historians and other observers — most recently, in Bill O’Reilly’s 2015 Legends and Lies TV series — have claimed Bass Reeves likely was the inspiration for a fictional Wild West lawman, the Lone Ranger. Indeed, it has been widely noted that Reeves — who was credited with capturing more than 3,000 outlaws — often gave out silver coins (not bullets) as his version of a calling card. His steed of choice was a white stallion. And very much like The Lone Ranger, Reeves was known to be a straight shooter and a fair fighter. Although he killed at least 14 men during gun battles, he steadfastly maintained he never shot a man when it was not necessary for him to do so to save his own life.
As for Chloé Zhao: She’s been riding high with The Rider ever since the film premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it received the Art Cinema Award. It later was nominated for Best Feature and Best Director at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards. During the awards presentation, Zhao made history by being the first recipient of the Bonnie Award, a new prize established to recognize the innovative vision and breakthrough work of a mid-career female director. (The award includes a $50,000 unrestricted grant funded by American Airlines.) Not too shabby when you consider The Rider is only Zhao’s second feature, after her 2015 debut film Songs My Brothers Taught Me.
And maybe her best is yet to come?