Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1972. Utopia Productions. Screenplay by Jeff Kanew. Cinematography by High Bell, Amin Q. Chaudhri, Louis San Andres, John M. Stephens, John Wing. Produced by Jeff Kanew. Film Editing by Jeff Kanew.
Residents of Harlem are treated to the wonderful sight of cowboys on horseback riding up 125th Street, their presence particularly special because they are all African American. Little known as part of the rodeo world, the presence of black Americans in western entertainments is celebrated in this little-seen but marvelous documentary.
The opening activities also feature interviews with street onlookers, both black and white, who rejoice in the possibilities that these performers mean for young people who are encouraged by media to generally view themselves in a narrow context. The action then moves to Triborough Stadium where audiences witness exciting events like bronc riding, calf roping and brahma bull riding, with director Jeff Kanew continuing to solicit reactions from the crowds about not only the quality of entertainment being presented but its importance for expanding people’s traditional ideas about cowboys and westerns.
The centrepiece of the film is what makes it irresistible, a lengthy and informative interview with actor and historian Woody Strode, who explains the long unacknowledged participation of African-Americans in the formation of the west after the Civil War.
Then as a treat, director Jeff Kanew gives us footage of Muhammad Ali, every bit the blustering celebrity, dazzling children on the street as he rides atop a horse, then later gives bull-riding a shot. A wonderful film that educates while being thoroughly charming.