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‘Concrete Cowboy’ Revamps the Image of Black Fatherhood in Film

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‘Concrete Cowboy’ — a film based on the novel “Ghetto Cowboy” by Greg Neri, premiered worldwide on Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival by way of pre-recorded messages from the film’s cast in light of Covid-19 pandemic social distancing measures and the country’s closed borders. The movie tells the story of urban Black cowboys in Philadelphia and was inspired by the real-life Fletcher Street Urban Club.

Challenging Stereotypes

Idris Elba plays the role of a modern-day urban cowboy that lives in Philadelphia, who takes in his troubled 15-year old son, played by “Stranger Things” star Caleb McLaughlin, in his first feature film role.

The world-renowned actor of Ghanaian heritage believes there’s an unfair portrayal of Black fathers in movies. Hence, this script caught his attention as he felt he could help change the global negative perception on the big screen.

Idris Elba, the fil,’s main protagonist, “We had lots of conversations about, you know, how central this component of father-son is to the story. And from – listen, I’ve played a couple of fathers and I know as a father that, you know, fathers, black fathers are misrepresented in film a lot. A lot. A lot. And, you know, that is one of the things that touched me. You know, I was saying earlier that I’m an only child and my dad – he wasn’t a lovey-dovey dude, but he raised the shit out of me, you know I mean. He really did. He made sure that I took on board some of the best things that he’d learned.”

Profound and Relatable Storytelling

The story explores the complex and deep relationship between a father and son who get off to a rocky start but eventually learn to understand one another as the movie progresses.

Producer Lee Daniels shares his take on the movie’s cultural impact, “Telling stories about – not telling your typical the stories that we see. Yes, there are drugs involved. Yes. Yes. It’s that. But Black urban cowboys. I mean. Father and son. I’m in. We need that. The culture needs it.”

The troubled teenager played by “Stranger Things” star Caleb McLaughlin, in his first feature film role. His personal exchanges with Elba — sharing details about their own respective fathers, enables the actors to establish a bond both visually apparent and felt on screen.

McLaughlin explains the approach, “Idris was able to communicate with me right before we filmed one of the most powerful scenes that we have in the film. We sat down under the tents outside and we just talked about the relationship and kind of going into it. I was talking to my father about the relationship – because my dad didn’t have his father in his life. We were just talking about like there’s a love-hate relationship there, like I want to love him, but I can’t because he hasn’t been there for me. And I think it was just the communication process.”

Cultural Impact

Director Ricky Staub’s unique shooting style also played a part in capturing meaningful moments thanks to his ability to shoot pretty much anything in front of the camera.

“Ricky’s the kind of director that if he sees it happening right there, the cameras are rolling immediately. There’s no (calling) action. There’s no you know, it’s just like. ‘I see it. I want it.’ So, we really fed off that,” Elba said.

Staub also employed locals people as well as members of the Fletcher Street Urban Club to provide authenticity to the storytelling. Although not so well-known, the non-profit club has done great work dedicated to inner-city horsemanship in Philadelphia for more than a century.

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