Virtually unknown outside the United States, African American cowboys are more than just an anecdote in the history of the conquest of the West. According to the American historian William Loren Katz, author of The Black West and one of the great specialists on the subject, no painting has been stained so white as that of the pioneers and the frontier. Asphalt cowboy vindicates an urban scene inherited from those black jeans that history has downplayed but survives with stubborn determination. The drama, starring the towering British actor Idris Elba and with Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things) and Jharrel Jerome (Moonlight) in his cast, he stops at Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street and his horse stables. There, the afrocowboys they maintain the tradition of their ancestors of riding and taming horses in the middle of a big city.
This curious urban movement is the backdrop for a film that mixes fiction and document in a way that timidly points to Chloé Zhao’s strategy in The Rider and now in Nomadland. With natural actors playing themselves, dressed in all the paraphernalia of rodeo cowboys, Ricky Staub’s film mixes this real passion for equines with the fiction of a father and son who meet again after years. A classic father-child drama where love and self-improvement find their own way between blocks that have become symbols of a past and traditions that also belong to African Americans. The conflict between Idris Elba (the father) and his son (Caleb McLaughlin) does not stop flowing, mainly because of the simplicity of the script, but also because the director has not quite found the right tone or point of view to achieve that the Cocktail fiction-document does not look like water with oil.