I recently had a discussion with one of my regular readers (Hi!) about Westerns starring PoC, some of which they hadn’t seen, which inspired me to make a list of some of my favorites.
I love Westerns. If you’ve been reading the Favorite Movies of My Life posts then you know I have a lot of nostalgia for TV Westerns. I used to watch Big Valley, with my Mom, because she loved Barbara Stanwyck, and Bonanza because she liked Lorne Green. Later, we discussed, and watched, shows like Rawhide, which starred Clint Eastwood, and The Rifleman because she was a big Clint Walker fan. From there, she introduced me to Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns, and inspired by her, I went on to watch movies like The Magnificent Seven, because I fell in love with Yul Brynner.
But my biggest joy was watching Black people in Westerns. The existence of Black people in the West has been all but erased by Hollywood, like so much of History has been erased, and supplanted, with images of only White people getting to have adventures, or make History.
*The cowboy is an iconic American figure and in popular mythology almost always a white one. For every Django or Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman’s character in Unforgiven) there are hundreds of white gunslingers. But of the “estimated thirty-five thousand cowboys that worked the ranches and rode the trails between 1866 and 1895, researchers have calculated that the number of black cowboys ranged from five thousand to nine thousand, with the high number representing 25 percent,” wrote Tricia Martineau Wagner, an author of several books about the West, in Black Cowboys of the Old West.
*How Hollywood Whitewashed the Old West
*The Other Pioneers: African-Americans on the Frontier
*Black Outlaws, Cowboys, and Lawmen of the Old Wild West
*AFRICAN AMERICAN COWBOYS
*10 African-American Cowboys Who Shaped The Old West
Even modern day cowboys are simply not being acknowledged. Lets face it, if you’re a Black person, who lives anywhere in the Southern United States, you know there are Black cowboys. Its unfortunate that Hollywood and television don’t ever seem to remember that. My family is from deep Mississippi, so I know about this, but hardly anyone outside of the Southern states seems to know.
*They’re Cowboys And They’re Coming Straight Outta Compton
Whitewashing of the term Cowboy:
As for Westerns featuring Black actors, here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites:
Gang of Roses (2003)
Reviewed here: https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/gang-of-roses/
I remember this movie was a huge deal in the Black community when it was released. A lot of my friends were crowing about how good it was. While it’s not my absolute favorite Black cowboy movie, its in the top ten, because at the time, it was kind of mind-blowing, since the last movie, that was anything like, it had been released in the seventies. And I got mad respect for Mario Van Peebles, who was trying hard to make Black genre films a thing.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
I saw this one when I was in college, as a double bill with Raising Arizona, and laughed my ass off the entire evening. Two of the funniest Westerns ever. This movie was not afraid to go there. My favorite scene is when some racist cowboys bully the the Black railworkers into singing for them, and they burst into a piano-lounge tune called, “I Get No Kick from Champagne”. The White cowboy’s reactons are priceless. That scene never gets old!
Unforgiven has some deep themes. While I’m not a fan of Clint Eastwood, the person, his films have always been first-rate. Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman are awesome in this movie.
I saw this around the time of its release. Starring Danny Glover, and Kevin Costner, it was the first time I’d ever seen either of these two actors, and the first time I’d ever seen a Black cowboy in a movie.
Buffalo Soldiers (1997)
I don’t remember a whole lot about this one. I watched it on cable late one night and remember enjoying it somewhat, so I’m not sure if this classes as a favorite, but I did watch it in its entirety, so felt I should put it here. It stars Danny Glover again, so that may have been my initial impetus for watching it in the first place, since I enjoyed Silverado.
Wild Wild West (1999)
I will watch Will Smith in anything, so I was overjoyed to see him in a Western, even if the movie royally sucked. The music video, on the other hand, was the shit. Yes! I know ALL the lyrics!
Django Unchained (2012)
The Hateful 8 (2015)
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Yeah, I liked this movie!