The Legend of U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves Rides Again


The story of Bass Reeves, a Black lawman who was one the most famous U.S. marshals to ever enter the lore of legend, has only recently come to light. Those of us raised by a floor model behemoth of a TV, the Lone Ranger series was all we knew of Bass Reeves but didn’t know that this white man in a mask, his stereotypical “Indian” sidekick and his white stallion named Trigger were silly facsimilies of the life of a man whose story is even wilder than fiction.

Bass Reeves escaped from slavery, was forced to fight in the Confederate Army, deserted and would later become the greatest lawman the South ever saw. But he would eventually pass into the fog of history and be all but forgotten—until now. recently attended a Q&A promoting the new series Lawmen: Bass Reeves alongside showrunner Damian Marcano and legendary production designer Wynn Thomas in New York City.

“So how does it feel to want to have finished this crazy bit of work? Tired,” Marcano quipped. “No, I usually correct actors saying lines and if they have questions when they say those lines and the meaning of those lines. What does the space that Wynn put them in mean? What does it mean for their character, right?

“But, as you can see in this one, the actors were doing that, and they were riding these magnificent beasts that we had on set every day. And they were shooting while doing it. So, I’m feeling pretty accomplished to be a part of that.  And on top of it? The story just means very exciting.”

The term legend is thrown around quite a lot in Hollywood. In fact, we’ve mentioned it more than a few times in this article thus far. However, sometimes the term is apropos.

 Wynn Thomas has designed the set for more than 40 film and television productions. From She’s Gotta Have It to Hidden Figures and now, Lawmen: Bass Reeves, the acumen of this obscure genius has always been right in front of our faces.

“Right. I mean, it’s great,” Thomas said of the Bass Reeves project. “I think we’re both honored to be able to tell the Bass Reeves story. But making this project was really hard on a lot of people and on almost every department. It takes a vast effort to put all these sequences together to stage all these scenes we have. And so I think we’re all kind of relieved to see it finished and to see it from this point of view.  I think the story is intriguing, and because we do we work this hard so that we’re telling interesting stories. And I think we succeeded in doing that.”

For some, it’s a foregone conclusion to research the subject matter before engaging in a creative endeavor. With a history and lore the likes of Bass Reeves, it was a necessity. Nonetheless, Marcano told the gathering that he did not do any research beforehand.

“Didn’t do research before I took this project,” he explained. “I just got sent a script that I really liked. I think I actually got sent the script for the first episode and there was even a period that we didn’t know whether or not we would actually get out to Texas to actually make the show. But in that time, you had all these decisions that were being made. I had several things sent to me. And for some reason, this man reminded me a little bit of my own spirit. As well as him being a husband, a father and somebody that was spiritual.

“Again, so I wanted to kind of live on this side a little bit and I think that’s the specialness of this project for me. That’s what kept me going. I think that’s what you know on top of just the brilliant people that we had. I told Wynn the other day, before I ever met this man, he was responsible for all the places I saw.”

Wynn was responsible for a lot of the stuff I saw my people in, in major motion pictures. He did Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X.  He agreed that some rasta from a rock in the middle of the sea could have a chance to come and be in the same room with him. It is an amazing experience. I am grateful that he pushed me every bit of the way. So, I really owe him a lot for what you see on the screen.”

Wynn Thomas was filled with history and perspective about promoting oft-ignored narratives of Black, brown and female-led subject matters.

“I think there’s a ton of stories out there from our community that need to be told and fortunately I think we’re in a time now where there is an opportunity to tell these stories that have not been told,” he said. “What I want to say to that now that these stories are being told it’s very important for all of us to support these stories and to see them and make sure they reach as wide an audience as possible.

“So it is all of our responsibility to call up everyone that we know and say, you’ve got to see this series because if people see it, and if the numbers are good, they’ll make more and we have in our community a ton of stories that need to be told.”

Lawmen: Bass Reeves is currently airing on Paramount+.  While it features a robust cast led by David Oyelowo, Dennis Quaid, Donald Sutherland, Lauren E. Banks, the scenery and cinematography are the biggest stars.