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‘Concrete Cowboy’ is an Example of the Diverse and Varied Stories of Black Lives in America – Review

If one were to think of modern-day horseback riding, images of urban landscapes and Black cowboys would likely not be the first thing to come to mind. Luckily, Ricky Staub’s Concrete Cowboy is here to populate your mind with such images and tell a story that deserves to be shared.

Based on the novel Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri, the story follows Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) a teenaged boy who has been sent to live with his estranged father Harp (Idris Elba). After pushing his hardworking mother Amahle (Liz Priestley) to the edge by constantly getting in trouble, she drives him to live with his father for a much-needed reality check. The situation is complicated for Cole as he must face his unresolved issues with his dad and suppress the urge to be self-destructive. Unbeknownst to Cole, his coming-of-age tale will involve building a relationship with a wild horse.

Concrete Cowboy - Review
(Courtesy of Green Door Pictures)

The story does delve into the cliched tropes often found in coming-of-age stories, however, as this is told through the Black lens, it is refreshing and enlightening. It’s a story about a boy having to come to terms with his own shortcomings and in doing so he builds character by working hard and building a bond with a horse in need of nurturing just like him.

Cole’s father, Harp, is part of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club – a community of Black riders. The film takes on a semi-documentarian stance as it creates a fictional narrative around this very real inner-city community of Black riders in North Philadelphia. Through this, we are able to learn alongside Cole of the century-long tradition that has led to these modern-day Black cowboys. There is also the added bonus of the ensemble being populated with professional actors, like veterans Elba and Lorraine Toussaint, with actual members of the club. Their screen presence is a welcoming invite to learn more about these people who keep such a rich and vibrant tradition alive.

(Courtesy of Green Door Pictures)

The film follows a simple structure that follows Coles’s growth. The story could have leaned into the “boy and his horse” plot point a little more, but ultimately this film isn’t so much about the horses or Cole for that matter. Rather, it’s a story about found families and communities. Through Staub’s assured directing and Minka Farthing-Kohl’s strikingly dark cinematography, the film never shies away from the grim reality of being Black in America, yet, there is a lightness to the film that assures you that this club will be okay as long as they have each other and their horses.

Staub fills the screen with sounds and visuals that illustrate the feeling of belonging to a loving community. Sounds of people talking and laughing fill our ears, as images of Black people in their urban cowboy attire grace the screens. Staub succeeds in regards to taking us to an environment that is hidden in plain sight.

Concrete Cowboy is an example of the diverse and varied stories of Black lives in America. As Hollywood remains preoccupied with streamlining Black narratives into easily digestible piece-meals for “mainstream audiences”, stories like these don’t get their opportunity to be told. A film like Concrete Cowboy is a welcome surprise. Like Cole, we are transported for a brief moment to a community of Black cowboys that value cohabitation with horses, the power of community, and fighting for what is right.

Concrete Cowboy premiered at The Toronto International Film Festival on September 13.

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