This weekend, fans finally got to see Idris Elba in Concrete Cowboy. The movie made waves at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and it premiered on Netflix on Friday, April 2 for the general public. The drama has left many viewers with more questions than answers.
Concrete Cowboy is based on a novel called Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri, published in 2011. It is a fictionalized version of the story of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club — a real-life organization that brought horsemanship to the inner city in Philadelphia. In the movie, Elba plays Harp — a horse-riding enthusiast trying to reconnect with his 15-year-old son, Cole, who is played by Caleb McLaughlin. Cole is sent away from his home in Detroit, Michigan to live with Harp, where he has trouble giving up his old life and getting invested in his father's eccentric passion.
Concrete Cowboy is directed and co-written by Ricky Staub in his directorial debut. He co-wrote the script with Dan Walser and added Elba as both a star and a producer.
Staub told Philadelphia Magazine that he stumbled into the idea when he saw a man riding a horse down an urban street in the city. He began researching the practice of urban horseriding, which led him to Neri's book and the obscure history of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. The non-profit organization aims to preserve the history of Black cowboys, particularly in the city, while giving inner-city youth an activity to get passionate about.
The club is alive and well today, after a generous land donation in 2015. The club adopts horses that might otherwise be put down in other parts of Pennsylvania, then gives them veterinary care and teaches young people to help care for them. Experienced riders can ride the horse throughout the city, though there are some parks, tracks and other areas where they tend to congregate the most.
Concrete Cowboy was supposed to premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in September of 2020, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was able to move to the Toronto International Film Festival that same month, but it missed any chance for a theatrical release. Instead, Netflix acquired the distribution rights in October.
So far, Concrete Cowboy is seeing mixed reviews, but a relatively even response between professional critics and casual fans. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 79% score among critics and an 80-percent score among other viewers. Many positive reviews praise Elba's performance specifically. Concrete Cowboy is streaming now on Netflix.