Promotional image with Edris Elba and the words concrete cowboy.

Promotional image for Netflix’s “Concrete Cowboy,” directed by Ricky Staub, starring Caleb McLaughlin, Idris Elba, Jharrel Jerome, and Lorraine Toussaint. Photo/ Netflix

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “cowboy”? Some people might think of old westerns like John Wayne classics, or fun comedies like “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (2014). Either way, you probably don’t immediately think about inner city cowboys who’ve traded their wheels for a saddle. 

The Fletcher Street Urban Riders are a part of a riding club located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

This nonprofit organization considers itself part of a century-long tradition of black urban cowboys and horsemanship, teaching Philadelphia youth to ride and maintain horses. 

The Fletcher Street riders encourage local kids to work with the horses in their free time, and dedicate themselves in their school work. 

Over the years, these urban cowboys have found it harder and harder to maintain their program because of state regulation, and the film showcases this struggle. 

Currently, the stable resides in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of north Philadelphia. Riders will commonly ride down paved street, and in local parks.  

Ellis Ferrell, the creator of the Fletcher Street Urban Riders, has since started a fundraiser to bring in more money for the program. Ferrell and his family have largely self-funded most of the urban riding in Philadelphia since 2004. However, with the April 2021 film release on Netflix, supporters have aided in surpassing the initial goal on Ferrell’s GoFundMe page. 

You might’ve seen the film already, as it’s been sitting in Netflix’s top ten for almost three weeks. “Concrete Cowboy” (2021) is a Netflix adaptation based on events involving the Fletchers Street Riders. In fact, many of the actors in the film are urban club riders themselves. 

The film follows Cole, Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin, a distressed youth who goes to live with his father after pushing his mother’s limits with his behavior.

Cole hasn’t seen his dad since he was a little boy, and has a lot of animosity towards his father, Harp. 

Harp, played by Idris Elba, leads a band of inner city cowboys, teaching community members to ride in Philadelphia’s lower income neighborhoods. Harp even keeps a horse in his small block apartment (which may be a Hollywood exaggeration of Ellis Ferrell). 

While Cole brings uncertainty to Harp’s door, Harp is struggling with his own set of problems in trying to earn back his wife’s his son’s love. 

The film presses on showing the stables that Cole starts working at. The sight of the stable is something to behold. Not only because they appear out of nowhere, but because these locations actually exist in Philadelphia. On the outside, the barn looks like a unkept storage building, but on the inside horses graze on hay.

The location of this film is raw, authentic, and showcases a part of history that has been ignored over and over again. There were, in fact, many Black cowboys. 

Harp is often seen sitting around a fire after dark in front of the stables. Many of the riders around this fire swap stories of the old Black Philadelphia cowboys.

While Harp and other cowboys reminisce on the past, Cole is out selling drugs with his long time friend, Smush. 

Harp considers Smush to be a bad influence, and while Smush used to be an urban rider, he’s since given it up for a chance to move out west and make his own stable. Smush’s dream is to live in the “wild west” and not be confined by urban riding. Unfortunately, Smush turns to a life of crime to make this dream a reality, in which he’ll eventually lose his life. 

Because Cole continues to hang out with Smush, Harp kicks him out. This scene is the most pivotal point in the film, even though it occurs within the first 15 or so minutes of the movie. 

Not having a place to sleep for the night, Cole jumps into a rickety barn filled with dust, horses, and hay. In the morning, Harp finds his son sleeping in the stall of the untamable Boo, a horse with a wilder spirit than Cole’s. 

Of course, Cole and Boo instantly connect. Harp gives Boo to Cole, but insists he work at the stable to learn more about the history of the Black Cowboy, and to keep him out of trouble.   

Through most of the film, Cole and Harp are at odds with each other, both hurt by the other’s past and present behavior. Cole insists he’s a man who can take care of himself, and the audience’s heart sort of breaks for the boy as he tries to find his place in the world. 

In an effort to not completely spoil this film for you, Cole will eventually find his way back to his true family, the Black urban cowboys of Philadelphia. Through riding Boo, breaking horses out of a holding facility, and learning the meaning of hard work, Cole’s redemption arc is well laid out through the film.  

Other themes like police brutality, systemic racism, classism, and sexism occur throughout the film too, making it well rounded with a few lessons to take home. While this film may be a dramatized version of the real Fletcher Street Riders, it gives a good glimpse into the history of the urban cowboys of Pennsylvania. 

Emilie Rodriguez can be reached at or on Twitter @emilieemeree.