One in four cowboys who roamed the range counted as Black men and women.
So, with the hoopla and often unsubstantiated “facts” associated with critical race theory, one could fairly wonder, why aren’t they more accurately presented both in U.S. history books and in today’s popular culture?
Some organizations, including the Smithsonian, through their museums and education and research centers, remain committed to the goal of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
But if you’d prefer to watch a film that, while not based on actual events, delivers in stellar fashion a snapshot of what life most assuredly was like for thousands of Black cowboys as America expanded into the western portion of the country, you should watch the new Netflix film, “The Harder They Fall.”
The film features a star-studded, multi-talented cast with each actor showing why they’re among the most sought-after African American thespians on the contemporary scene.
The American revisionist western, directed by Jeymes Samuel who co-wrote the screenplay with Boaz Yakin, includes the following cast: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi and Deon Cole. And they are simply superb, from their speech patterns and gestures to the powerfully realistic acting they showcase in scenes during which they either battle for supremacy or ride off into the sunset as the manes of their horses blow casually in the wind.
Then, there’s the music — the soundtrack to the film — which gives us a delightful blend of neo-soul, country/western, classical and reggae, as well as a touch of old-school R&B.
Third, while some of the sets may appear a bit too staid and artificial, one can overlook such shortcomings when you see the glorious scenery which includes portions of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Finally, while the film serves as a fictional account, the characters in the blockbuster represent the lives of real cowboys, lawmen and outlaws of the 19th-century American West — all of whom were Black.
Yes, Black cowboy Nat Love, born a slave near Nashville, and featured in the film, actually existed. During his life, he tackled the western frontier in a manner that the actor John Wayne attempted to portray. In Love’s 1907 autobiography, he describes the infamous Dodge City, Kansas, as a town with “a great many saloons, dance halls and gambling houses and very little of anything else.” And he really fought Indians and sometimes even drank with the outlaw Billy the Kid.
Another character featured in the film, Bill Pickett, was also a real person. Born in 1870 in Texas to former slaves, he would emerge as one of the most famous early rodeo stars. Pickett also serves as the inventor of “bulldogging” — a rodeo technique in which cowboys wrestled a steer to the ground — a practice that continues to this day.
In 1972, 40 years after his death, Pickett became the first Black honoree in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame – ushering in the beginning of what has since become a tradition of honoring African American rodeo cowboys while acknowledging their contributions, far too often ignored in years past.
Once upon a time, Black cowboys and cowgirls dominated the western territories and newly established states in America. They helped shape this country, sharing their gifts, talents and insights as the nation grew in scope and reputation. They tamed cows and wild horses. They robbed banks, rescued damsels in distress, loving hard and living even harder.
The film “The Harder They Fall” will one day be included with other classics among the canon of America’s western films.
But, unlike most others, it won’t show the good guy riding off in victory on his white horse while the bad guy, a white man, sometimes in the company of unruly and evil Black or Native American men, attempts to wreak havoc while perched on his black horse and wearing all black, before falling in defeat.
In this rare instance, it will offer a more realistic portrayal of the Wild, Wild West.