Editor’s Pick: Concrete Cowboy.
SYNOPSIS: When fifteen-year-old Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is expelled from school in Detroit, he is sent to North Philadelphia to live with Harp (Idris Elba), his estranged father. Harp finds solace in rehabilitating horses for inner-city cowboys at the Fletcher Street Stables, a real-life black urban horsemanship community that has provided a safe haven for the neighborhood residents for more than 100 years. Torn between his growing respect for his father’s community and his reemerging friendship with troubled cousin Smush (Jharrel Jerome), Cole begins to reprioritize his life as the stables themselves are threatened by encroaching gentrification.
At first, I thought Concrete Cowboy was a western with Idris Elba taking out a bunch of bad guys with Caleb McLaughlin as his sidekick. Boy was I wrong… it was something better, unique, and necessary for Black viewership. A story about a Black boy reconnecting with his father and his father finding a way to be there for him, McLaughlin and Elba were moving in this father and son drama. During a Taji Mag invited Netflix interview, they explained their preparation, experiences on set, and characters.
How to be a Man and a Father
“Harp has been a cowboy all his life. The community of riders look to him as a leader. He’s also a dedicated father but doesn’t know how to be a father. When he sees his son for the first time in so many years, emotions start to bubble because he realizes what his absence has caused,” explained Idris Elba. This was evident as Cole felt Harp did not have the same love for him as he did the horses. There’s a particular scene where Cole says Harp is more than a father to the others in the community than he is to him. This scene was powerful and made me think back to when I learned my parents were not born parents.
Cole’s issues stem from his lack of having his father around and not having something of interest he could funnel interest into. When he forms a bond with his horse, it’s a thing of beauty and great symbolism. That very same horse would not let anyone tame him and at one point broke loose from the stable, only to be tamed by Cole. “Cole is a complex character, who has serious abandonment issues,” Elba remarked.
“He’s angry with Harp because he wasn’t around. So, he’s having a hard time being separated from his mom, being in a world he’s not used to, and then having to deal with a father that hasn’t been there for him” McLaughlin reflected about Cole. At first, we see a troubled Cole dropped off in Philadelphia and he is scared out of his mind because of the unfamiliar surroundings. He then becomes more comfortable hanging out with his cousin, Smush, and also getting to know the local cowboys.
Although Smush is a drug dealer, we later find out that he plans to flip ranches to escape the poverty and social strain of his neighborhood. Unfortunately, his means of raising capital is also a game of roulette as the drug game never brings money without consequences.
Love and Support
The death of his cousin, both a hurtful experience and a reality check, allows him to see what the future may hold for him if he remained on his current path. This family trauma allowed the opportunity for both Cole and Harp to be vulnerable, to be father and son. From there they both make amends continuing to do what they both love, raise and tend their horses. Even Cole’s mother has an opportunity to reconnect, or at least it’s implied.
In the end, Concrete Cowboy was a great film about the growth of a boy and his father while providing exposure for the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in Philadephia. It is a welcomed change from the normal Black suffering themes creatives use as a carbon copy. If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you add it to your Netflix playlist.