Concrete Cowboys: A Touching Film on the Preservation of Black History and Community

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By: Camille Jackson, Loyola Senior 

4.5 out 5 stars.

Where To Watch: Netflix

“Only way you can realize its true spirit, its nature, is through love.” Director and screenwriter  Ricky Staub and co-screenwriter Dan Walser, use these words, spoken by one of the Black horse-riders in the story, to tie in all of the themes of history and community preservation explored in this striking star-studded film which includes Caleb McLaughlin from “Stranger Things”, Idris Elba, and Lorraine Toussaint. Based on the novel Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri, “Concrete Cowboy” tells the story of a troubled, teenage Black boy, by the name of Cole, struggling to find his place in the world, who is forced by his mother after his reckless behavior in school, to live with his estranged father, Harp, in Pennsylvania, in a tight-knit community consisting of Black horse-riders. 

There, on Fletcher Street, Cole learns of the history of urban Black Cowboys (including women) or ‘cowhands” and how this group is fighting to preserve their legacy in a world where their existence has been continuously erased, including now, as the community is facing gentrification, pushing them out of the areas they and their ancestors have greatly shaped. During this journey, Caleb learns more about his father and what lead to their fractured relationship, while also spending time with his rebellious drug-dealing cousin Smush, played by Jharrel Jerome, whom his father highly disapproves of. Caleb must choose the path he wants to have for his life, figuring out which community will bring him peace and purpose.

I found this piece to be a beautiful, well-paced, heartfelt, and sometimes gritty, narrative film that blends in documentary-esque elements, bringing in real-life Fletcher Street horse riders as supporting characters to share their stories and provide personal insight into their rich history, and dispelling the myth that only horse-riders or cowboys were White. The directors did a great job of capturing vulnerability amongst Black men, which is not often portrayed enough on screen in my opinion. There are a couple of slower moments in the film that some may find too long, but I really enjoyed it because it captured the world this community resides in and the beauty of quiet and mundane moments. Plus, the scenes interacting with these fiercely independent horses and chase scenes were exciting and balanced the film out. 

The dynamic dialogue and distinct voice each character had in this film were wonderful and provided many memorable moments. There’s some dialogue that felt a little preachy at times, and simply needed to be cut down, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film. Caleb breaking out of his “Stranger Things” role helped me see him in a different light and showcased that he’s a strong dramatic actor that can hold his own in a scene with the incredible Idris Elba. I also enjoyed the Fletcher Street supporting actors because they gave really great performances, and brought in a personal touch to the story. I found myself crying at times from the stories they shared, and the vulnerability every performer gave captured the intimate cinematography.  

Overall, I enjoyed this film, and believe this is a must-watch. It allows audiences to see a part of Black culture that is not shown on television, challenges us to question what else is missing from our history books, and shows us the necessity of community in finding one’s self and preserving our legacy.

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