Idris Elba's Concrete Cowboy movie inspired by very real urban horse riding club

Gabriella Geisinger
·4-min read
Photo credit: Toronto International Film Festival
Photo credit: Toronto International Film Festival

From Digital Spy

When you search for Concrete Cowboys, the internet throws up a 1979 movie starring Tom Selleck. But he's not the cowboy we're concerned with...

Instead, we're talking about Idris Elba, starring alongside Stranger Things' Caleb McLaughlin in the upcoming Concrete Cowboy, a movie based on the novel Ghetto Cowboy by G Neri.

The plot of the movie is fiction: a teenager (McLaughlin) discovers the world of urban horse riding when he moves in with his estranged father (Elba) in North Philadelphia.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

But these urban horseback riders are very real: they're called the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, and they've been around for a long time. The Philadelphia based non-profit is part of a century-long tradition of urban horse riding in the African-American community in Philadelphia.

There are clubs like this outside of Philadelphia, too: Horses in the Hood in Los Angeles, the Federation of Black Cowboys in Queens, and Kensington Stables in Brooklyn.

In the past, the Fletcher Street Riders were part of a large urban horse riding community that numbered over 50 stables throughout Philadelphia, dating back to the 1940s at least.

Photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY - Getty Images
Photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY - Getty Images

However, in recent times, unemployment, drugs, and encroaching gentrification have impacted the club's ability to run successfully.

The club long used an abandoned piece of land nicknamed Fletcher Field. But in March 2008, Philadelphia's Redevelopment Authority ordered the club to leave before bulldozing everything.

And thus the club was displaced, with owners struggling to find a place for their horses. Some had to be sold off, leaving the club's numbers to dwindle. But at the end of 2014, the club received a parcel of land.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

A local business owner rallied others in the community to help clear the lot of years of litter to make it useable as the permanent home for the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club.

Through these ups and downs, the mission of the club remains the same: "To save and restore this historic, important facet of Philadelphia's community, and most importantly, its children." It is a "safe place for [children] to be mentored, to feel good about themselves, to learn important lessons in responsibility, discipline and reward".

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

The club's website says: "Many of the boys that frequent Fletcher Street have little to no support in life and the men on Fletcher Street have consistently taken it upon themselves to provide a positive environment and some facet of stability for those kids that have none. Fletcher Street is determined to preserve its legacy, children and horses."

In 2018, Mil – one such Urban Cowboy – spoke to Dazed: "It's amazing what an animal can do to you, without you even knowing. It's a job but it's not a job. It becomes part of your life, like waking up. You've got to build a bond with them (the horses). Once you have a bond, it's never the same."

At the time, Dazed reported that Philadelphia had one of the highest violent crime rates in America. But these stables go a long way to lowering those numbers, which helps taxpayers too.

Photo credit: Nike
Photo credit: Nike

According to a fundraiser page for the club: "It costs at least $362 to incarcerate ONE juvenile PER DAY in Pennsylvania. Saving the club saves not only children from jail and horses from slaughter but taxpayers $132,130 per youth, per year."

But it's not about money. As Mil added: "When something happens, it happens, but when I was coming up, when things did go down, I wasn't around because I was at the stable. [The horses] keep you out of trouble a whole lot, they do. It's like a safe zone for a lot of people."

Though Elba's Concrete Cowboy may have a fictitious plot, many of the real Fletcher Street Riders star in the movie: Jamil Prattis, Ivannah Mercedes, Albert C Lynch Jr, and Michal Upshur. The post-credits scenes are dedicated to them telling their stories, and how important their community and culture is.

Concrete Cowboy is available to watch on Netflix from April 2

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