The Real-Life Urban Cowboys of Philadelphia

The Netflix drama Concrete Cowboy is a stark drama about a father-son relationship set in the stables of Fletcher Street, one of the first stables in downtown Philadelphia and now among the last. The film is based on Greg Neri's novel Ghetto Cowboy, which was inspired by Philadelphia's real urban African American equestrian culture and, in particular, the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. Ferrell launched the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club as a non-profit organization in 2004 so that the operation could begin accepting donations for community work that he and generations of black cowboys had been doing for free for years. Operations are run entirely by volunteers and members of the local community, while donations help pay for supplies to maintain stables and care for horses. Concrete Cowboy was mostly filmed in the North Philadelphia area, including in and around makeshift stables near Fletcher Street.

The film also features several of the inhabitants of real cowboys working in the stables, with roles that reflect their own lives, while some horsemen helped shape the script and served as advisors on set. In 2004, the city took over a group of stables in Brewerytown, another neighborhood in North Philadelphia, and demolished them to make way for apartments, displacing about 100 horses in the process. The stables that were once scattered around Philadelphia began to close, leaving riders with few places to house their animals. As black cowboys continued to face existential threats, they always found their way back to Fletcher Street, the heart of the urban cycling community. Yeah, there really have been cowboys on the streets of Philadelphia.

Netflix moves on with Hollywood version of Concrete Cowboy, by director Ricky Staub, starring Caleb McLaughlin, from Stranger Things, and the only Idris Elba. While the coming-of-age film itself is a fictional drama, it is actually based on an actual organization called Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, which has historically been an urban community of black cowboys in North Philadelphia. Concrete Cowboy, an urban western about African-American cyclists in Philadelphia starring Idris Elba, is about an often unprecedented and persistent black cowboy culture. Neri, 57, discovered the impact this subculture can have on young people who might otherwise go astray. His idea was that if you gave a horse to a street child, that could change your life because having your own horse is a full-time job.

You're there before school, you're there after school, you're there on the weekends, you don't have time to get in trouble. In a genre that has been perpetually attracted to American myth and open plains, Concrete Cowboy is urban, contemporary and authentic. Concrete Cowboy writer-director Ricky Staub spent two years visiting the stables and meeting cyclists in the Fletcher Street community before writing the script, and chose some real-life cyclists in the film. Although Concrete Cowboy events are fiction, the real-life Fletcher Street riding community has also faced gentrification and mandatory seizures from the city. As one of the few black cowgirls in the urban riding community, Mercedes says her role in Concrete Cowboy is her own life story that comes to life on the big screen. Jamil Prattis, who has kept horses on Fletcher Street for 15 years, wasn't the only member of the community to show up at Concrete Cowboy, as Ivannah Mercedes (Cole's love interest) and countless riders grew up in similar communities. The epilogue of the youth novel Ghetto Cowboy, on which Concrete Cowboy is based, says that the book is inspired by the real-life horsemen of North Philadelphia and the Brooklyn-Queens area of New York.

The creators of Concrete Cowboy have helped create a non-profit organization to raise funds for an equestrian center. Fletcher Street and Philadelphia's urban cowboy communities have received more attention than ever after the launch of Concrete Cowboy, and now many people step in to help preserve the city's iconic institutions. Concrete Cowboy which premiered last year at the Toronto film festival and is now available on Netflix is a stark drama about a father-son relationship set in the stables of Fletcher Street one of the first stables in downtown Philadelphia and now among the last. The community's struggle against gentrification and battles of many other communities like this is reflected on big screen in Netflix's Concrete Cowboy. In watching Concrete Cowboy you may be wondering what happens to stables on Fletcher Street and background to legacy of people who ride horses in Philadelphia. While Concrete Cowboy itself is fiction based on Greg Neri's youth novel Ghetto Cowboy film is heavily inspired by royal horsemen of North Philadelphia.

Jack Brown
Jack Brown

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