On a summer morning of 2019 on Fletcher Street, Ricky Stobb was asked to walk on the plank.
For decades, Fletcher Street – a piece of North Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood – has been home to urban horse stables, and was a hub for black horsemen, and Staub began spending time there after befriending a local rider Was.
In this way Stub found himself struggling to push a wooden beam into a circle, a group of stationary regulars watched each of his battles. Staub was eager to prove himself. He showed up for a day of dirty stationary work wearing clean, shiny sneakers (“like an idiot”) and couldn’t afford another crook flub. Also, a wooden plank was going over a huge pile of horse manure.
“I’m really going to be thigh-deep if I fall,” Stubb said.
Lucky for him (and his sneakers), Staub kept his balance. And when he had successfully completed his work, the audience roared applause at the rising pile, dumping the rubble of the wheel – also filled with manure.
The first of many experiences of that daring maneuver given to 37-year-old Staub “Concrete Cowboy,” His first feature, now streaming on Netflix. In this coming-of-age story, a Detroit teenager (Caleb McLaughlin) is sent to Philadelphia, where he is sent to live with his father (Idris Elba, who is the film’s producer), a modern on Fletcher Street -Day Cowboy comes out of existence, where the small stables sit modestly between the ropes.
The film, adapted by Stubb and Dan Valser from the young-adult novel “Ghetto Cowboys” Yes. Neri, May follow a familiar Hollywood arc, but it is injected with extraordinary, sometimes surreal details drawn from the experiences of Staub and Valsor strolling with urban horse riders in Philadelphia for nearly two years.
Consider, for example, the campfire scene of the film’s early stages, when riders gather around the fire at night, swapping stories with flames that emanate from the belly of a metal barrel. It is a tableau, complete with a cowboy hat, taken directly from the classic Western. This is also something you can watch offscreen today.
“In summer, on any night that you want, you walk around the Fletcher Street stables and there will be at least three people with a tin-can, sitting comfortably,” Ivanna-Mercedes, a rider who developed Hua took care of horses on Fletcher Street in the 2010s. Mercedes, who plays the role of a fictional cowgirl in “Concrete Cowboy”, is one of a handful of riders – some still active there, others now based at various stables around the city – who appeared in the film , On either side of the camera.
The riders pointed to several details of the film that were true to their own experiences, the main one being that the ride has proved to be an indispensable form of healthy entertainment in an environment gun violence And other hazards can be difficult to avoid.
“As a child in the early 80s, I started riding horses on Fletcher Street,” said Michael Upshur, 46 years old. “If they only see people on the side of the road, that’s what they are going to gravitate to.”
Upshur said he rode more than a dozen horses on Fletcher Street for years. Like other riders, he sees the stables as an obsession or pastime.
“Being with those horses taught me to be patient,” he said. “I found myself thinking too much before acting.”
Upshur described the way the horses were washed with a hose, noting that they sagged ficklely in a stream of water. Over the decades, he has often taken a 10-minute ride from the stables at Fairmount Park.
“There’s something about you and that park,” Upshur said. “When you can see your horse walking on those little twigs, you can hear the crackers burst. You see small squirrels running, and the horse bounces a bit – it calms you down. “
Erin Brown, 37, is remembered as a young rider saying “your horse is a reflection of the type of person he is.” Brown, who learned to ride Fletcher Street in the early 1990s and later manages a barn, said that while she was growing up, caring for the horses made her realize the responsibility. She said that for a period during her teenage years, she was “walking the wrong path”, but the stables put her on the ground. He is now a professional riding instructor.
“I honestly don’t know where I’d be today – and so many people could say the same thing – if it weren’t for horses,” Brown said.
Several Philadelphia riders teamed up with Stubb and other members of the film’s creative team Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy, A nonprofit that aims to maintain and preserve the history of Black Riding in Philadelphia. (Brown is the executive director of the organization; Upshur and Mercedes are on its advisory board.)
Riders on Fletcher Street have long been concerned about the future of the stables as stables and new development looms. Each stable in the cluster on Fletcher Street is individually owned and managed. There have been many problems over the years, leading to a run-in with the city and the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And larger than the stables, the meadow – a set piece in the film that served as an open space for riders – is now being developed. The Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy aims to build a permanent stables where riders from Fletcher Street and elsewhere in the city can build a permanent home for their horses.
Brown, Upshur and Mercedes each emphasized that the history of urban ridership in Philadelphia should be preserved, and that the sense of empowerment and responsibility that horse riders offer is an invaluable – and irreplaceable – asset in the community. Hollywood actors in “Concrete Cowboys” also became aware.
Lorraine Toussaint, who plays the role of a fictional rider, said she was struck by the “discipline involved with caring and maintaining these extraordinary animals and with love”.
“I loved horses a lot,” he said, adding, “I actually went to buy a horse farm after this movie.”
Elba found himself realizing the crowd and patience of the real riders.
“These were truly a proud moment for me,” he said. “It made a very powerful jump on a horse – you feel tall. You are on this majestic beauty of an animal.”
Elba was so committed to shining a light on the Philadelphia riding community that she signed on to produce “Concrete Cowboys”, when it was still a script looking for financing and took up the challenge of playing opposite real local riders. He even contributed a song to the film’s soundtrack.
Elba did all this despite an irreversible, rather inconvenient truth: he is allergic to horses.