Despite what John Wayne movies might have led you to believe, one in four cowboys was Black. That’s according to Smithsonian Magazine, which cites expert William Loren Katz as saying, “Right after the Civil War, being a cowboy was one of the few jobs open to men of color who wanted to not serve as elevator operators or delivery boys or other similar occupations.” While a lot of these cowhands worked out west and in particular in Texas, major cities like New York and Philadelphia also had robust Black communities working with all the horses that were required for day to day business in the period before cars really took off. Little by little, though, those communities have died out as space has diminished and raising horses has become less fashionable and more expensive. Still, some enclaves remain.
One such enclave, the Fletcher Street stables, is the subject of Netflix’s new movie Concrete Cowboy, which stars Idris Elba and Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin. A coming of age story cloaked in the dangers of the drug trade, Concrete Cowboy is also about how places like Fletcher Street have faced down gentrification and development, as well as a general lack of respect from city governments. In the video above, we talk to Elba and McLaughlin about those issues, as well as about the history of Black cowboys. We even talk about their on-screen equine counterparts, because how could we not?
Concrete Cowboy hits Netflix Friday, April 2.