Idris Elba, Caleb McLaughlin, and Jharrel Jerome star in Netflix’s Concrete Cowboy, a Western drama about a 15-year-old boy named Cole (McLaughlin) who moves from Detroit to Philadelphia where he lives with his father and joins a local cowboy group. After he begins to enjoy the life of a horseman, Cole learns the city plans to close the stables. The film was adapted from G. Neri’s fictional book Ghetto Cowboy which he wrote after reading a profile about young Black cowboys in LIFE magazine. Although the story is not true, the twist is very close to what's happening to one of the real riding clubs that inspired it.
Ghetto Cowboy, and thus Concrete Cowboy, was inspired by groups of real-life Black horsemen like Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, who were profiled in the LIFE article. Concrete Cowboy filmed on location in the city of brotherly love — on Fletcher Street, to boot — to capture the equestrian lifestyle which could soon be stripped from the community. The land shown in the movie is currently at risk of being taken away from the FSURC and their horses.
“Horse riding is not only therapeutic and instills discipline, but it enables a sense of empowerment to the disenfranchised and those living in communities of hopelessness,” 82-year-old FSURC founder Ellis Ferrell says on the group’s website. Black cowboys have been living in Philadelphia for over 100 years, but Ferrell’s stables and FSURC horse riding community began to grow on Fletcher Street in 2004. The Philadelphia Inquirer published photos of Elba riding a horse while filming Concrete Cowboys on the block in 2019. But now, the lot exactly across the street is being gentrified and turned into a housing complex by the city.
The land never officially belonged to Ferrell or FSURC, a non-profit, but has been used by the club to graze and ride horses. According to local newspaper Billy Penn, the land was sold in 2020 for $1 to the Philadelphia Housing Authority who plans to create affordable housing for seniors. The publication reports that City Council President Darrell Clarke’s office is seeking “alternatives” as of November 2020, but in the meantime the club’s location remains unclear.
FSURC also appears to be struggling financially. “I’m known worldwide. I’ve had them from everywhere. Australia, Germany, France, the U.K., Korea, Japan. All of them have been here and did videos of me and they’ve gone back to their countries and won awards. I never got one dime,” Ferrell told Billy Penn.
Ferrell created a GoFundMe page to help secure the club’s future. “In recent years, Ellis has struggled to keep his vision alive due to the lack of funding, he uses his pension to care for the horses and his property on Fletcher Street,” the original post on the donation page stated. It also said donations would go towards food, grooming supplies, medical costs, transportation, a documentary project, and other necessities for the horses and club.
The page was updated a few days prior to Concrete Cowboy’s Netflix release on April 2 and Concrete Cowboy now appears on the list of projects that have supposedly not shared profits with Ellis. The new post calls out the film and alleges FSURC has not been credited by the filmmakers.
It also claims that the filmmakers behind Concrete Cowboy have created a non-profit and started their own GoFundMe campaign. This is true, but the Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy (PURA) campaign appears to be aimed at a slightly different cause: establishing a new youth community centre, which will include educational programs and equestrian activities inspired by Concrete Cowboy. The description states that it was "was established in partnership with Ricky Staub, Dan Walser, Staci Hagenbaugh and Ryan Spak, the filmmakers behind Concrete Cowboy." However, FSURC worries that PURA's GoFundMe could steer potential FSURC donors away from supporting their fund.
As of this writing, FSURC’s page has reached its $100,000 (£72,000). The most recent post and Concrete Cowboy’s release could hopefully draw more attention to the campaign and the land dispute. While the Hollywood spotlight, according to Ferrell and FSURC, has not helped them stay afloat thus far, maybe the reference to the club’s financial struggles in the Netflix movie will finally give Ferrell and the cherished community programme the support it needs.