'Black People Have Been Cowboys': Concrete Cowboy Cast Reflect on the Legacy of Black Cowboys

When did you first learn that Black cowboys exist?

For actor and producer Idris Elba, it was Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” that made him aware of Black cowboys in America.

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Lorraine Toussaint grew up during the era of Buck and The Preacher, a classic film starring Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, two Black men, which was set in the wild, wild West. But, alas, these were fictional characters.

And for rapper-turned-actor Cliff “Method Man” Smith, it was Posse (also a fictional movie), directed and starred by Mario Van Peebles, which opened his eyes to this space where Black cowboys reigned supreme.

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But, Black cowboys aren’t just fabled characters, who we occasionally see depicted in media. Black cowboys are real, but this story of Black men riding horses, catching outlaws and victoriously riding into the sunset in the wild, wild west often isn’t told.

In fact, the Lone Ranger was based on a Black man—Bass Reeves, who was born into slavery, escaped and after emancipation became a lawman and a real-life superhero. The more you know.

In North Philly, Black cowboys have been a part of the culture for over a century and still exist today—in fact, they operate the Fletcher Street Stables and are the subject of Netflix’s Concrete Cowboy.

The Ricky Staub-directed film is based on the novel “Ghetto Cowboy” by G. Neri and stars Idris Elba, Caleb Mclaughlin, Jharrel Jerome, Lorraine Toussaint, Cliff “Method Man” Smith and members of the Fletcher Street Stables.

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Concrete Cowboy is available on Netflix Friday, April 2.

Afro-Cuban woman that was born and branded in New York. When León isn't actually creating cool videos, she's thinking of cool videos that she can create.

DISCUSSION

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FeministOnFire

My father used to say things angrily that were too complex for my 3-4yo brain (non sequitors) like,”The Lone Ranger was a Black man” when I was looking at a white man on-screen. But as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that he, like me, just felt like he alone could see The Matrix!

Around 15 years ago, I ran across a glossy picture book of Black Cowboys and bought it for a good guy friend who I thought would find it interesting. He did. A year or so later at his funeral, his grown daughters told me he didn’t just like it. He would pour himself a drink, sit in his favorite chair and read it with such pleasure that everyone in the house knew not to bother him (or touch it). Often he often burst out reading passages aloud angrily or in awe. He LOVED that book! I don’t think I’ve ever had a gift so appreciated and hold the idea that he loved it that much in my heart as a balm against missing his friendship and mentorship sooooooo much!

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