It’s September, which traditionally launches the Canadian film festival season, and at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival one movie stands out for its western riding theme.
Concrete Cowboy, starring Idris Elba and Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin, is a father-son drama set against the backdrop the real-life Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, an inner-city riding stable that runs a program for at-risk youth in Philadelphia.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, during the press conference for the film Elba was teased for his riding skills, or rather, lack of riding skills. The charismatic actor defended himself by explaining that he’s allergic to horses, but he learned to ride for the role so that his performance would be authentic.
And to hear Elba speak about horses, we can honestly say that the man gets what all of us horse lovers understand about our equines. “It goes beyond just learning how to ride a horse. Very quickly, you have to have a bond with the horse,” Elba said. “They quickly understand who’s riding on the back of them. And then you have to understand them.” He went on to explain that as he grew accustomed to his horse, he noticed it became attuned to his voice and movements.
Concrete Cowboy is also remarkable for its depiction of a lesser-known faction of American subculture; the Black horse trainers and cowboys who have been a part of the fabric of the American west since the Civil War. Often omitted from the history books, both Fletcher Street and the LA based Compton Cowboys share the goals of helping at-risk kids, promoting and preserving the wisdom and experience of Black horsemen and women, and reclaiming their ancestors’ place in history.
Concrete Cowboy was produced by Lee Daniels (The Butler, Empire) and based on the novel by Gregory Neri.